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America Supports You: AdoptaPlatoon 'Labor of Love'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2004 – The men and women of AdoptaPlatoon, a nonprofit group, volunteer their time and energies to support deployed U.S. servicemembers and their families.

"This is a labor of love for us," said AdoptaPlatoon President Ida Haag. The organization's goal, she said, is to provide "a better quality of life" for deployed servicemembers and their families.

The origin of AdoptaPlatoon can be traced to 1998, when Haag, an English teacher from Rio Hondo, Texas, began sending cards and letters to her son, an Army soldier serving in Bosnia.

At her son's request, Haag also sent items to nine of his comrades. Later, the platoon's leader asked Haag if she'd support the entire 40-member platoon.

"Before we knew it, another company asked for support," she said. Haag later organized AdoptaPlatoon into a Texas charitable corporation, and it was granted federal status as a nonprofit organization in 1999.

Haag said she received a signed letter from then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush citing the need for AdoptaPlatoon. Today, the organization has operations across the United States and 30 management volunteers, Haag noted.

Today, AdoptaPlatoon supports members from all of the armed services, she said. Servicemembers' receipt of extra socks or ice packs, and lollipops or bubble gum to hand out to children in Iraq or Afghanistan makes a big difference, she said.

AdoptaPlatoon also supports military families. "We try to fill in the gap a little bit" while servicemembers are away overseas, Haag said.

The organization creates morale-boosting projects at military request. "Soldiers have to sign up for us," she explained, adding, "Sometimes it's a solitary soldier who wants to receive mail other than just a bill."

Through AdoptaPlatoon, she said, some soldiers now get mail who didn't receive any before.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the anthrax attacks that year, "we realized our world is not as safe" as it once was," Haag remarked. She noted that AdoptaPlatoon was temporarily shut down in 2001 due to the anthrax scare. The organization was deluged with mail from servicemembers urging it to continue its work.

Haag recalled that one correspondent had exhorted: "Don't let terrorists change our way of life."

"We didn't give up," Haag said. Security measures were implemented so that prospective sponsors are contacted and screened.

Suzi Castiglione, a "platoon mom" volunteer from Ohio, became involved with AdoptaPlatoon in May 1999.

"Anything we send out has been requested" by military commanders, explained Castiglione, a resident of Solon, a suburb of Cleveland.

AdoptaPlatoon volunteers agree to support deployed units by sending troop care packages or maintaining correspondence with overseas.

"Our care packages contain things for the whole platoon, anything from food, personal items, magazines," Castiglione remarked.

Castiglione said she read an article about AdoptaPlatoon in the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" in 1999 that discussed the activities of Ohio resident Joyce Lisiewski, one of the first group of volunteers recruited by Haag.

"I called Joyce and started just by 'adopting' a couple of soldiers," Castiglione, the mother of three sons and a stepdaughter and stepson, recalled.

Once married to a Navy man, Castiglione, now divorced and remarried, remembered how her former husband appreciated the care packages she'd send him when he was deployed for months at sea.

Today, Castiglione supports U.S. troops serving in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as wounded troops in stateside hospitals.

"They're so grateful," she said.

Some deployed servicemembers "are just really lonely" and need to feel that someone cares about them, she said.

Castiglione continues her AdoptaPlatoon endeavors, because, "It feels good to know I'm helping someone."

Servicemembers deserve public support, she said, because "they're looking out for our welfare."

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