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VFW, YMCA, AT&T Support Enduring Freedom Troops, Families

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2003 – Many nongovernmental organizations from coast-to-coast are partnering with the military to support service members during the war against terrorism.

Nonprofit organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Armed Services YMCA are lending helping hands to the military. And, for-profit companies like AT&T are helping deployed service members connect with loved ones back home.

For example, more than 500 active duty and reserve military units have been "adopted" by the VFW and the Ladies Auxiliary, noted Bud Haney, director of the VFW's military assistance program at the organization's Kansas City, Mo., headquarters.

As part of the Adopt-a-Unit program, members of VFW posts can send letters and do other things to support the military unit or its family members, Haney explained.

The VFW, he added, also works with grade schools to produce letter-writing campaigns for deployed service members. The VFW also uses proceeds from bake sales to purchase and donates items like laptop computers and digital cameras to military family support centers, he noted.

"Basically, we're trying to build a relationship with service members and their families to show our organization really cares about them and that America doesn't forget the men and women who serve this great nation," Haney said.

"Our membership have answered the call to duty and we feel that those folks who are out there performing that duty deserve all of the support they can get," he added.

Retired Navy Capt. Mike Reber, executive director of the downtown San Diego Armed Services YMCA, noted his organization has supported U.S. troops since 1863, when it ran coffee wagons during the Civil War.

The Armed Services YMCA, headquartered in Alexandria, Va., is a separate social services and charitable organization within the YMCA that serves only military personnel and their families, Reber noted. There are 20 Armed Services "Ys" across the country where there are large concentrations of troops, he added.

The San Diego branch's military family outreach programs constitute "one of our main efforts" in troop support, Reber remarked.

"We have the only in-home crisis counseling program within the community, where licensed social workers are referred to military families in the community," Reber explained. The counselors provide parenting, financial and other types of counseling at no cost to service members and their families, he added.

"We get referrals from chaplains and Navy family counseling centers," he continued, noting that all counseling visits are confidential.

The San Diego Armed Services YMCA also offers mobile after-school youth programs for "latch-key" children, he noted.

"We take the van to various military housing areas throughout the week on a scheduled basis" to provide games, toys, and other activities for children to do until their guardian gets home, he explained.

Reber said his "Y" often collaborates with Morale, Welfare and Recreation offices on military bases in the San Diego area.

He noted his branch also has an office in the San Diego Naval Hospital, "where we do quite a few programs there we have support groups for families who have children with autism, for instance."

The San Diego Armed Services "Y" also runs a baby- and respite toddler-sitting service so military spouses with sponsors deployed overseas can get some time to shop or simply get a brief rest from being the sole parent.

Another popular program is a women's' craft and conversation group, Reber noted, "which is really growing" since more area service members have been deployed in support of the war against terrorism.

There are thousands of military families in the San Diego area with deployed husbands or wives, Reber noted.

AT&T recently announced it's building additional telephone calling centers for troops deployed to places like Kuwait in the Middle East. The company provides "call-home" phones for service members at 170 overseas locations and aboard more than 200 Navy vessels, according to an AT&T news release.

"AT & T is honored to be able to assist our troops with the services they need to stay in touch with loved ones, no matter the distance or time of day," Military Market Director Bill Baumann stated in a company news release.

The company also provides discounted prepaid phone cards to service members that are sold in military exchange stores on land and sea.

"Personal communication for troops deployed overseas has evolved considerably since Operation Desert Storm," Baumann declared in the release.

Today's military members "are more connected than in any other previous deployments in U.S. history," he concluded.

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