America Supports You Summit Helps Groups Build on Momentum
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2008 More than 180 representatives of 122 troop-support groups gathered today at the Pentagon to share information and insights about ways to boost their efforts during the third annual America Supports You National Summit.
Attendees at the Pentagon's 3rd Annual America Supports You National Summit enjoy bag lunches as they network with new friends about their projects to help American service men and women and their families. The all day summit, held on Jan. 25, 2008, in the Pentagon conference center, featured programs on a variety of important fund-raising topics, such as "writing an effective grant proposal and "Finding the Resources to Accomplish Your Mission," from experts in the field. Defense Dept. photo by R. D. Ward
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Allison Barber, the program’s architect, opened the all-day session welcoming the participants she credits with making America Supports You such a big success. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is slated to close the summit, thanking the groups for their contributions.
The Defense Department launched the America Supports you program in November 2004 to showcase support for the country’s men and women in uniform from the American public as well as the corporate sector. More than three years later, it continues to expand, directing people who want to do something to support the troops to myriad initiatives already under way, and enabling those behind these efforts to share ideas and encouragement.
Barber told the group she had no clue when the program first began how big it would grow -- with 343 grassroots groups as well as corporate members now participating --- or how powerful its impact would be.
“What we didn’t know is that we would create this amazing network -- an amazing network for you to work together, and an amazing network for our troops to get more support (and) for their families back home to get the support they need … because of what you do,” she said.
The Defense Department counts on America Supports You groups to provide support to troops in ways it and the individual services can’t, Barber said.
“When people ask how they can support the troops,” she said, “we tell them, go to the America Supports You Web site and find our groups who are making a real difference in the lives of our troops and their families.”
Although initially introduced as a campaign, America Supports You has evolved into a permanent Defense Department program.
“What we have created is something that will never go away,” Barber told the group. “America Supports You has become institutionalized throughout the Department of Defense because it is our connection to you -- citizen support for the men and women in the military.”
The agenda for this year’s America Supports You summit, the largest yet, was built around suggestions from participants in the last summit. It’s packed with breakout sessions designed to help grassroots leaders maintain the momentum they’ve built, Barber said.
Participants are learning how to motivate and manage volunteers, find the resources needed to support their operations and get word out through the media about their efforts. One of the breakout sessions is focusing on compassion fatigue and ways to identify symptoms of burnout and treat it before it takes hold.
“Home-front groups are our first line of support,” Barber said. “Through these sessions, we’re providing some new tools to help them provide that support. We want them to walk out of here refreshed so they can go back home and continue what they’re doing.
“Our goal for this summit is threefold: to let them know how much we appreciate what they’re doing, and to help equip them and encourage them to keep on doing it,” she said.
Attendees said they welcomed the opportunity to meet other America Supports You members and swap experiences and ideas.
Calvin K. Coolidge, program director for Freedom Alliance, returned for his second summit to pick up more tips for his group, which provides scholarships and grants to children whose parents have been killed or permanently disabled in combat. Coolidge said he benefitted from last year’s meeting, where he learning new processes and better ways to communicate and work with the military.
“It’s a real benefit to have the opportunity to meet new people and talk about how they are doing things and how to do things better to be more effective,” he said.
Ann Johnson, founder of the Adopt a U.S. Soldier program, is attending her first America Supports You summit with hopes of learning how to improve her operations, which rely solely on volunteers. Jeff and Patti Patton-Bade from the Soldiers’ Angels group traveled from Pasadena, Calif., for ideas for their program, which sends care packages to deployed troops and supports fallen heroes’ families.
“We came here for the opportunity to network with everyone else,” Patti said. “If every one of our groups communicated with each other, imagine the kind of support we could offer.”