America Supports You: Troop-Support Groups Gather at Freedom Walk
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2006 As thousands of people streamed into the Pentagon parking lot at the end of the America Support You Freedom Walk tonight, they were greeted by representatives of a variety of groups that run programs to support America’s servicemembers and families.
Eighteen grassroots groups from DoD’s America Supports You program were stationed to greet the walkers and hand out information about their programs. America Supports You spotlights ways the American people and the corporate sector support the nation’s men and women in uniform.
The groups represented at the Pentagon included organizations that send care packages to deployed troops, support family members of wounded troops, and provide specialized services for troops with prosthetics. Representatives of the groups agreed that being at the Freedom Walk helped them spread the word about how Americans can support the troops in many different ways.
“It’s important to let America know what we do,” said Peggy Baker, founder of Operation First Response. “This is how we do it, with events like this.”
Operation First Response is an all-volunteer organization that supports wounded troops and their families. The group provides financial aid, assistance with flights, transportation to and from hospitals, personal items, and information on other groups and charities that can help, Baker said.
“We just feel like it’s our job as American citizens to take care of our wounded and let them know we support them,” said Baker, who has a son in the Army.
Another group represented at the Pentagon was Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit group that provides emergency support and assistance to servicemembers and their families. Operation Homefront sponsored local Freedom Walks in 13 different cities as a way to support U.S. troops and their families, said Caitlyn Kiedaisch, D.C. area chapter president.
“We are here for the families,” Kiedaisch said. “This gives them a family activity -- something to get their minds off of their family member’s deployment. It reminds the families why we are fighting.”
The Freedom Walk is a positive event because it shows the troops that Americans are behind them, no matter how much bad news they see in the media, Kiedaisch said. “For us to come out here, it shows that we do support them,” she said.
One of the America Supports You program’s youngest members was also at the Pentagon for the Freedom Walk finale. Bailey Reese, 10, founded Hero Hugs three years ago after seeing National Guard troops responding to a hurricane in her native Florida being treated badly. “I wanted them to know that someone appreciated them,” Reese said.
Reese enlisted the help of her classmates and friends at school, and since that time has sent more than 16,000 care packages worth more than $125,000. All the packages are made by children, and include gum, candy and homemade crafts.
Reese said that being at the Freedom Walk was another way for her to show support for the troops, which is something she plans on doing for as long as she can.
One of the walkers, Air Force Tech Sgt. Larry Perkins, said he appreciated seeing the troop-support groups at the end of the Freedom Walk. “I’m all for it,” he said. “They’re all helping out, supporting our country and our troops.”
Perkins, who has deployed four times and is ready to go again, said that the Freedom Walk shows unity among the nation’s military, its first responders and its people.
“As a whole, our country has to be together to win the war on terrorism,” he said. “This shows that we are.”
This year’s Freedom Walk started at the Washington Monument and ended at the Pentagon, where participants were treated to a concert before the illumination of 184 lights in the Pentagon courtyard to represent all those killed there Sept. 11, 2001.