America Supports You: Grassroots Groups Feel Appreciation

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2006 - Before a White House meeting with President Bush this afternoon, grassroots troop-support groups learned what their work means to servicemembers during a luncheon here hosted by America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting America's support of the nation's servicemembers.

Allison Barber, architect of the America Supports You program, said she is witnessing first-hand the significance of these groups' efforts as she travels through the Middle East on a business trip.

"We've met all of these young military members who are desperate to know you're supporting them back home," the deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communication and public liaison said during a phone call to the luncheon from the Middle East. "I want to let you know how much I appreciate and, more importantly, our troops and their families just so appreciate what you're doing through your organizations."

Their efforts are important, she told them, citing a Gallup Poll that found 17 percent of those polled don't support the troops. "Whatever you think about the war is one thing, but you've got to support our troops," Barber said.

She also brought the groups up to speed on what America Supports You is striving to do to make their missions easier. One main goal is to secure a corporate sponsor for each of the grassroots groups.

When the phone call concluded, representatives of each of the groups, all America Supports You members, got a chance to introduce themselves and give a brief description of what their organization does for U.S. troops. Collectively, the organizations support the troops with everything from care packages and family support to paperback books and adaptive clothing for injured troops.

Bailey Reese, 10, president of Florida-based Hero Hugs, started sending care packages to servicemembers overseas after watching the efforts of the National Guardsmen who responded to Hurricane Katrina. "(That way) they know someone's appreciating what they're doing," she said.

She has good reason for believing that. Her brother, who just turned 15, is a member of the Air Force Junior ROTC and plans on joining the Air Force upon graduation, she said, adding without hesitation that she'll send him care packages if he's deployed.

Other groups found America Supports You living up to its goal of being a connector campaign as they listened and realized how they could help each other. For about 30 minutes they shared stories and helpful hints, as well as discussing challenges, before walking the short distance to the White House to meet the commander in chief.

"This gives me more of an opportunity to just show my community - let alone nationwide - how important it is to support our troops," Liann Meyer, founder of Montana Supporting Soldiers, said of the pending meeting with the president.

Others were excited about the meeting with the president because of credibility the gesture lends these groups.

"I think the troops now have the opportunity to get more and more support," Eileen Schwartz, founder of North Carolina-based Flags Across America, said. "The fact that the president acknowledges that there are people, grassroots organizations most of us, who are doing something is quite significant."

This is the third group of America Supports You grassroots groups the president has met with since the program's inception in November 2004. Those attending included American Military Family, Defenders of Freedom, Family and Friends For Freedom Fund, Flags Across the Nation, Hero Hugs, Military Family Support Centers, Inc., Montana Supporting Soldiers, Operation Paperback, Sew Much Comfort and Yellow Ribbon America.

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