America Supports You: Air Force Spouse Helps Troops, Families
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2005 A bit over a year ago, Joan DeFalco heard the Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany needed help getting personal items for servicemembers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said she wanted to do something.
So DeFalco and her sister, Jane Mancini of Oakland, Calif., brainstormed and decided to mesh their expertise. They developed a Web site where people could find contact information for organizations geared toward helping servicemembers and their families.
"We thought, unlike for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, it was really strange that there were no addresses to write to the servicemembers or a place to find information about helping the troops and their families," DeFalco said during a recent interview.
So they took her 25 years of experience volunteering to help troops and her sister's knowledge of computers and created a Web site and named it in her sister's honor. "Noanie is the nickname my family gave me," DeFalco explained.
DeFalco credits U.S. European Command Chaplain (Army Col.) Vince Ingilterra with sparking her interest in wanting to help American combatants and their families when she was with her husband in Germany.
He sent out a prayer request to help the wounded and those who were caring for them at Landstuhl, the largest American military hospital outside the United States. Most wounded servicemembers from Iraq and Afghanistan are evacuated to Landstuhl if their injuries can't be treated in military field hospitals.
DeFalco's effort doesn't seek to collect items for distribution to servicemembers and their families, but rather spreads the word about available support resources by providing links to a host of military assistance organizations.
"We were hoping to create a site that people could go to and get involved with the troops through the many links that are on there," said DeFalco, who runs it out of her home at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. Her husband, Lt. Col. Mark DeFalco, is chief of the Air Force Doctrine Center's combat support and nuclear operations at the base.
"We started small, basically to help the wounded at Landstuhl, but we kept finding more and more sites that would help the troops, so it expanded from Landstuhl to what it is now," DeFalco noted.
Initially, Noanie asked for such things as coupons for the Burger King restaurant near the Landstuhl hospital, international telephone calling cards, sweat suits, athletic shoes, fall and winter jackets, rucksacks, gym bags, small suitcase and DVD movies.
The site started receiving e-mails asking for help for wounded servicemembers at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Then a special request arrived from a unit in Iraq: "We are soldiers from 166th (Area Support Group) at Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq. We want to be part of your organization list to support my unit.
"We are in need of moral support such as letters and materials such as magazines, etc. -- also, cleaning care kits, razors shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc."
DeFalco recently started Operation Band Aid to answer questions about the Noanie site.
"Operation Band Aid is the e-mail you write to if you have questions about the Web site and need more information," DeFalco said. "I'm like 'Dear Abby' for the Web site. "It's really amazing, I'm getting a lot of e-mail for 'Operation Band Aid' with people asking questions about how they can help servicemembers and their families.
"For example, a lady in a big business has a ton of clothing to ship to Landstuhl, so I gave her Landstuhl's phone number," she said. In another instance, a college fraternity had 45 volunteers, so DeFalco told them to pick a volunteer group to help.
People also share their success stories about how they've helped support wounded troops. "One school in New Jersey started a phone card campaign for the troops and they told us that they raised 1,000 phone cards," DeFalco noted. "A women's group from South Carolina sent hundreds of phone cards and Burger King coupons. A group of college kids put a box in the back of the church during the Lent season last year for students to donate items for wounded troops at Landstuhl.
"There are suggestions of donations on the Web site and we keep in contact with Landstuhl, Walter Reed and Bethesda to update the list of things needed," she said.
She emphasized that that none of the donations comes to her. "Everything goes right to the troops from the organizations people choose on the Web site," DeFalco added.
Volunteering to help servicemembers and their families has been DeFalco's passion for her more than 25 years as an Air Force spouse. The mother of three has spent hundreds of hours volunteering with family services, teaching Sunday school and leading ladies' groups.
When her husband commanded a unit, she ensured that the troops were well-fed, listened to their problems and helped make sure the morale was up. This included being there for sickness, birth, death and any other time troops needed to know that someone cared.
DeFalco said her grandfather was in the Army Air Corps during World War I, her father was in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and her uncle and father-in- law were in the Navy during World War II. Her nephew is a an Army specialist stationed at Fort Polk, La., and her son-in-law is an Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.