December 14th, 2006 03:05 EST
America Supports You: Summit Participants Motivated to Thank Troops
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2006 – Clutching a camo-clad teddy bear named “Hero” that she received from a soldier in Iraq, fifth-grader Bailey Reese stood out among the troop-support organization leaders who gathered at the Pentagon today for the second annual America Supports You Community Group Summit.
America Supports You is a Defense Department program that spotlights and facilitates support for the nation’s servicemembers and their families by the American public and the corporate sector.
Representatives from more than 80 of the program’s 234 nonprofit grassroots organizations met with DoD officials, coordinated their troop-support functions and shared their stories.
After a hurricane hit her hometown of Niceville, Fla., 10-year old Bailey started “Hero Hugs,” an organization that sends care packages to troops.
“We were without power, so we went to one of the checkpoints and (Bailey) saw people snapping at the soldiers and complaining about the lines being too long,” said Bailey’s mom, Diana Calvert-Reese. “Nobody was telling them ‘thank you.’ She was really bothered by that, so she made it her mission to see that soldiers were thanked.”
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who later was presented with an America Supports You poster signed by each of the participating partners, addressed the group. Rumsfeld’s comments were followed by feedback sessions which gave the troop-support organization leaders the chance to discuss what they enjoy about the program and what could make it even better next year.
Strengthening the community of support for the nation’s men and women in uniform is next year’s goal, said Calvin K. Coolidge of Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships and grants to children whose parents have been killed or permanently disabled in combat.
Other ideas mentioned in feedback sessions included reducing shipping costs on items sent to troops abroad, and harnessing new media – such as blogging, virtual forums and chat rooms -- to keep America Supports You partners and their donors connected, said Allison Barber, assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and community outreach. Barber conceived of the America Supports You program, which was launched in November 2004.
Meeting with congressional representatives to explain their programs on Capitol Hill would also be helpful, several participants said.
“We welcome the scrutiny and the honesty and your critique, because it will make a stronger organization,” Barber said to the auditorium of America Supports You partners. “We want to know what’s on your mind, and we will help facilitate that. … It’s a great use of our time.”
Discussion turned to the annual Freedom Walk, an America Supports You initiative designed to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and to honor the nation’s veterans, past and present. Freedom Walks took place in all 50 states this year in addition to the national event held in the nation’s capital.
“The Freedom Walk is a nice opportunity for people to get together and show our consolidated support for the military,” said Linda Davidson, director of OMK, a McLean, Va., nonprofit organization that provides grants for extracurricular activities to children of deployed soldiers. Next year’s Freedom Walk will be a good way to show support for military families too, Davidson said.
The annual summit underscores the participants’ desire to honor and respect America’s servicemembers, Coolidge said.
“Our troops need to know that they are supported by the American people; the America Supports You program helps them get that message, wherever they are,” he said.
Source:DoD By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service