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Programs Support Troops, Help Military Families

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2003 – Press reports about the American public sending thousands of e-mails in support of troops are only partly correct, according to Navy Cmdr. Rudolph "Rudy" Brewington.

There are nearly a million messages to the troops in cyberspace, he said. On the other hand, he added, they're not e-mail messages.

He said there's a misnomer with respect to the Dear Abby Web site operation and troop-supporting sites. "It's not sending e-mail," emphasized Brewington, the public affairs officer for the Navy's quality of life site, LifeLines Services Network. "When we structured this, we purposely made it a Web-based online version so as not to clog up e-mail systems at bases, and particularly on ships.

"So press reports that have been calling it e-mail isn't correct, it's online messages," Brewington pointed out. He said people can post their messages on the Internet at www.LIFELines.navy.mil, www.OperationDearAbby.net, and http://anyservicemember.navy.mil/About.html.

He noted that all the Web sites are powered by the Navy's LifeLines, but the message program's for all the services, including the Coast Guard.

Here's how it works: When supporters send messages to troops, service members with Internet access may read the messages via "OperationDearAbby.Net." Service members who don't have Internet access can still read the messages, because company commanders can download bulk messages to be printed and distributed.

The messages are broken down by branch of service and by state. Troops can read the messages by going to the site and looking up their specific branch and state, the commander said.

"All this came into being in November of 2001," Brewington explained. "After the anthrax situation, the Department of Defense suspended the Any Service Member Program, which had been going on for a number of years by advice columnist Dear Abby. We here at LifeLines decided we could do something about it. So we developed this Web-based alternative. We presented it to DoD and they immediately embraced it."

He said now DoD, the White House and others are pushing these programs to the public saying, "If you want to support the troops, this is a very tangible way of doing it," the commander said.

"Since the inception of this Web site, we've received in excess of 900,000 messages, particularly in the last week or so with the onset of hostilities," Brewington noted. He said among DoD partners in the program is AARP, CNN's Larry King Live and the White House Commission of Remembrance.

Wal-Mart recently became a partner, he said. "Wal-Mart has set up kiosks in their stores where viewers can send messages of support to men and women stationed overseas," he said. "This service was launched on March 24. In the first 24 hours, almost 11,000 messages were sent from their stores."

Brewington said a thank you to the troops can be sent at DoD's news site about the war on terrorism, Defend America, at www.defendamerica.mil/nmam.html. Well-wishers enter their name, city, state and country to be added to a list of names that are going to be sent to the troops. So far, more than 8.8 million people have said, "Thank you," to service men and women.

Many other programs and organizations offer support for the troops and help for military families. You can search for ways to help in your community through the USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network at http://www.usafre edomcorps.gov/for_volunteers/index.asp.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePetty Officer 2nd Class James Wennberg, 22, of Jamestown, N.Y., visits the Navy's LifeLines Web site in the library aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to read some of the messages to the troops from the American public. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Margaret Taylor.  
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