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San Quentin Inmates Join 'Operation Mom' to Support Troops

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2004 – About 50 military veterans in California's San Quentin State Prison joined forces with volunteers from "Operation Mom" over the weekend to wrap 430 care packages for shipment to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Vietnam Veterans Group of San Quentin worked side by side with members of Operation Mom, a support group based in the San Francisco Bay area, to wrap boxes of hygiene items, snacks and letters of encouragement.

The San Quentin group, made up of honorably discharged Vietnam veterans, saw television coverage of Operation Mom earlier this year and donated money and supplies to the cause. The inmates also routinely send donation-request letters to businesses, according to Gloria Godchaux, president of Operation Mom.

Godchaux, who was hurrying to the post office today to ship the packages, called the joint effort a great example of community support for America's troops.

While shipping care packages for deployed troops is an important part of Operation Mom's effort, Godchaux said, the group's primary focus is on support for families, friends and loved ones of members of the U.S. armed forces. Operation Mom groups three in California and one in Georgia -- gather once or twice a month to lend comfort and support to parents, spouses, family members and friends of those serving in the military, whether stateside or overseas.

Most group members have children or loved ones serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and Operation Mom offers a forum for them to share their fears about their loved ones and encourage each other to be strong, Godchaux explained.

"I didn't realize what a huge need there was for that kind of support," said Godchaux, who founded the group with a friend after Sept. 11, 2001, when she learned that her son, Marine Corps Cpl. Kevin Godchaux, was about to deploy to Southwest Asia. "It gives people a safe place where they can come and express their concerns and fears without letting their kids know how worried they are."

Godchaux said Operation Mom groups often invite guest speakers to their meetings and plan activities such as writing cards and letters to the troops or planning fundraising activities for their "A Little Touch of Home" care package program. But the primary focus, she said, is always on sharing and networking.

"We have to keep ourselves emotionally, mentally and physically healthy to be ready to support our kids when they come home," she said. "None of us fully understands what they have been through."

Although her son left the military in late July, Godchaux said she remains committed to Operation Mom. She has another son who plans to join the military after graduating from high school next year, and she said she knows there's a tremendous need among people with family members and loved ones serving in the military.

"I want to be here to help people through the hard times," she said. "And I've found when you give, you get so much back in return."

More information about Operation Mom is posted on the group's Web site.

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