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Wal-Mart, VFW Help Troops Stay in Touch With Home Front

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2004 – More than 900,000 servicemembers serving worldwide will be able to write and call home during this holiday season thanks to the generosity of Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

This is the third year Wal-Mart and the VFW have partnered to provide free phone cards to deployed servicemembers through the Operation Uplink program, said Michael Meyer, administrator for corporate development for the VFW Foundation at VFW's national headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.

This year, the two organizations, plus Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart, will co-sponsor the sending of new MACK -- Military Assistance Communications Kit -- programs to 900,000 servicemembers overseas, Meyer said.

Each kit, Meyer noted, contains a phone card, writing paper, note cards, envelopes, a folder with a 2005 calendar and a letter of support.

The Wal-Mart-VFW partnership has provided more than 2.3 million free phone cards to active servicemembers in the past two years. The VFW began the Operation Uplink program in 1996.

"We've provided prepaid phone cards to our servicemen and women for a number of years now," noted Meyer, a Vietnam veteran. He said his organization understands "how important these phone cards are" to deployed servicemembers and their loved ones.

Meyer lauded the many VFW members who solicit donations for phone cards and other veterans' programs. These people "are the backbone" of the organization, he said.

Programs like MACK, he pointed out, come about through a combination of corporate support and individual effort. The first batch of MACKs was sent out to overseas servicemembers via Federal Express on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

Dan Fogleman, Wal-Mart spokesman at the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, noted that MACK "is new, a next step in Operation Uplink." Besides providing free phone cards, he noted, the MACK also contains paper and envelopes, which are "in short supply in some areas of the world."

"The men and women in the armed forces want to know they're being remembered for their service, and that's what we're doing at Wal-Mart," Fogleman said.

Wal-Mart, a discount retailer established in 1962, has a long history of supporting servicemembers, Fogleman said, pointing to company pay and benefits differentials provided to deployed Guard and reserve members and donations provided by the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club foundations. In fact, he said, the two foundations recently made a $1 million donation to the VFW foundation, specifically to meet the needs of servicemen and women, past and present.

Regarding the new MACK program, Fogleman said his company is "very proud to again partner with the VFW to bring our servicemen and women this gift of communication."

With the holidays coming up, Fogleman noted that many deployed servicemen and women will be feeling the effects of being deployed far away from home and loved ones.

The MACK and Operation Uplink programs, he pointed out, enable military personnel deployed overseas to call home free from virtually anywhere in the world.

"Imagine what a gift that would be, to hear your parents, wife, husband or child from half a world away," he said.

Kathy Cox, the community program development manager for the Wal-Mart foundation, spoke of receiving an e-mail from Dale Stevenson, a Wal-Mart assistant store manager who works in St. Petersburg, Fla. In his message, Stevenson, whose son, Andrew, is a Navy man deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, thanks "the people responsible for Operation Uplink and also for the MACK packs."

Stevenson said his son had called him using a Wal-Mart/VFW-supplied phone card during a stopover in Germany en route to Iraq.

"He told me that there was a small sign next to the box that said that the VFW and Wal-Mart had provided these cards for the boys to stay in contact with parents," the elder Stevenson wrote to Wal-Mart in his e-mail.

"I can tell you that just hearing my son's voice is truly a treasure," the father said, according to Cox, "one which was made possible by your efforts, and the efforts of the men and women at the VFW.

"I just wanted to let you know that it really makes a difference," he said.

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