Friday, November 19, 2004 11:40 a.m. EST
MR. ABELL: Well, good morning. Thank you all for coming. My name is Charlie Abell. I'm the principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. And I'm going to talk to you a little bit this morning about a great program, an important program.
Let me give you a little preface. You know, on September 11th, 2001, our nation came together as never before, one people. They were -- we are united in strength, united in our resolve against our terrorist enemies. And in the three years since September 11th, 2001, throughout our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere around the world, the American people have stood solidly behind our military personnel, both men and women, and their families.
The support of the American people goes beyond just that for their own family member and friends. It also includes the members of -- all the members of the armed forces, who have liberated about 50 million people from tyranny and oppression; have eliminated two brutal regimes, two state sponsors of terrorism; and have made our own nation vastly more secure at the same time.
The support of the American people has been sustained and deep, spanning every segment of society, from families, schools, local communities, including major multinational corporations, each doing their part to show their appreciation for the dedication and sacrifice of America's fighting forces.
Most amazing to me and in keeping with the ingenuity and the creativity, which -- for which Americans are famous are the many ways that folks have come up with to show that they support our military members and their families.
We have a brother and sister team who have raised over $100,000 and bought more than $30,000 worth of prepaid calling cards, so that service members can call home to their families and their loved ones.
We have an organization that was formed to build houses for returning troops, who have been disabled in the war.
We've got the Family Literacy Program, which gives a deployed parent the opportunity to read a bedtime story on a mini DVD and then takes that back, so the family and the children can listen to Dad or Mom read that bedtime story.
United Through Reading organization also does this with a videotape, so they can actually see Mom or Dad reading the story. And that's just a wonderful outreach on their behalf. We have the USO, which has a long history of taking care of our military, and they continue to do so through Operation Care Package. They've sent over 400,000 care packages to their troops. Their president, Mr. Ned (sic/Ed) Powell, is here with us today, and we're grateful for the many ways the USO supports our troops and their families.
The Freedom Calls Foundation has collected $10 million in donations to provide free Internet, phone and video teleconference services for over 10,000 of our deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
Operation Hero is an after-school tutoring and mentoring program for troubled dependents of deployed parents, to help them, the dependents, find the hero inside of themselves.
Starbucks and the American Red Cross have teamed up to deliver hot coffee to the forces fighting the global war on terror. You know how Americans love their coffee, and some have complained that that that we make is not as good as that that Starbucks makes. So we appreciate Starbucks and the American Red Cross helping out.
Home Depot has donated over a million dollars in tools and materials to help military families repair and maintain their homes while a family member is deployed overseas.
And these are just a few of the many expressions and generosity of the American people.
The program that we launch today, called America Supports You, spotlights what these and thousands of others are doing every day across our land to communicate their support to America's armed forces. This is important because support of the American people builds and sustains the morale of those who are fighting to defend our freedom and communicates our own -- America's recognition and appreciation of the courage and commitment of those who serve.
With us today is a young American, Shauna Fleming, right over here. Shauna exemplifies the America Supports You initiative. Shauna's 15 years old, she's a student in Orange, California, and she has gathered over one million letters and e-mails of appreciation to current and past service members. She raised her own $1 million limit or goal now to 1.4 million (dollars), and is well on her way. She's also the unofficial spokesperson for the National Military Appreciation Month.
We also have today joining us over here, as I mentioned, Mr. Ned (sic/Ed) Powell, president and chief executive officer of the USO; Mr. James Mueller, the senior vice president and commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; Mr. Robert Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars District of Columbia office; Mr. Raymond Felsecker, assistant director of legislative programs for the American Legion. And they'll be available to chat with you afterwards if you would like.
These organizations and others have steadfastly supported the troops many, many times over many, many years. They are partnering with us today to help communicate the message of this campaign. And the purpose of today's event is to ask people, people of America, to join America Supports You Team. Log-on to our website, tell us what you're doing to support our troops, our men and women in military, and we will take that information and relay it to the troops so that they'll understand many of the ways that America reaches out to them and to their families. It's very important for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to know that they are supported by the folks back home.
I think we have a short video for you to look at, and then after that, I'd be happy to take questions, and I'm going to refer all the hard ones to these guys.
(Video is shown.)
Okay, I'll be happy to take any questions.
Q: Just so that I understand the purpose of the program, are you trying to solicit more grassroots support for the troops or are you simply trying to find out what's going on out there and trying to get it under one umbrella?
ABELL: The purpose of this program is to find those things that people are already doing. And more is better, but that's not the purpose of this program. The purpose of this program is just to be able to realize what's going on and be able to tell our deployed soldiers and their families back home: This is what America is doing for you.
Q: I have a philosophical question for you. One of the things that's come up, because this war has been so controversial, is kind of a -- almost a chicken-and-an-egg question: Can you support the troops without supporting the war? Could you address that?
ABELL: I think -- I think America can do that easily. If they -- if there's somebody out there who philosophically does not support this war, that's one thing. But supporting the young men and women who are participating in it is easy, in my book. And I think we heard during the presidential campaign that folks on both sides of the issue expressed great support for the troops and for their families, and I don't know why the rest of America can't do that as well.
Q: What about the feedback from the troops to the people that are involved in these programs?
ABELL: You know, I think the troops are the best source of that feedback. They all come home; they aren't over there forever. They come home after a year. They come back to their communities, they pitch in and help for the folks who are then deployed. But they also come home and talk to their families and their neighbors and their communities and their churches and their schools, and they express the feelings that they have when this stuff comes to them or went to their families while they were gone.
I think we get feedback from them. If you all would like us to highlight that, I'm sure we could. But my experience is that that happens at the local level.
Q: Just as a brief follow-up; say, for example, that troops wanted to get back to, say, Shauna, or somebody like that, could they do that?
STAFF: On the website.
Q: On the website?
Q: Can we talk to Shauna?
ABELL: After this is over, she's going to be here. And I leave that up to Shauna and her mom and dad.
Q: How is the information collected through this program going to actually be communicated to the troops on the ground?
ABELL: We're going to gather it up here, and Allison is going to -- Allison's operation is going to put that together, and then we're going to give it to the troops. We have a myriad of ways to talk to the troops and to provide information to them to let them know, and we're going to use them all.
Q: No, hang on.
ABELL: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q: On some of the specific stuff that has been going on, do you have any numbers for how many care packages have been sent, how many DVDs with bedtime stories have been handled, and particularly, how many houses have been started or built for disabled service members?
ABELL: I don't have those off the tip of my tongue. I believe I mentioned that somewhere in excess of 400,000 care packages by the USO. But Mr. Powell's here. He's a better spokesman for the USO than I am.
Q: And the houses, do you have any sense of that?
ABELL: No, I don't, actually. We can get that for you.
Q: Are those the Fisher Houses?
ABELL: No, no. Fisher Houses are for families of those who are in the hospitals. These are to take a house or build a house for someone who has a special need as a result of their injuries from the war -- you know, ramps, wider doors, those kinds of things. A very generous project.
Q: So it's not building new houses, but rehabing the houses --
ABELL: It's both.
ABELL: Okay. Well, thank you very much. We hope you'll support the program.
Q: Thank you.
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