Groups' Gathering at Pentagon Shows America's Support

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2008 - For the 38 grassroots groups who took up a temporary home in the Pentagon's center courtyard today, the mission was clear: show support for the troops and share information about just how they do that.

The groups were gathered for the 4th Annual America Supports You Salute to Our Military Men and Women.

"It's wonderful to have these organizations here today, to have people get exposure and show the goodness coming out," said Kelly Meyer, project coordinator for Operation Iraqi Children. "A lot of it isn't shown on the news. This is one way, one day, that we get that chance [to show the goodness]."

Meyer's organization provides school supplies to troops to pass out to Iraqi and Afghan children. "We want it to be a soldier helping a child," he said. "It basically makes a peace bridge.

"[The servicemembers] are not just somebody invading your town, occupying your country," Meyer added. "These are people who are actually trying to better your future."

Actor Gary Sinise, who founded the organization with Lauren Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit," also was on hand with his "Lt. Dan Band" to perform for servicemembers and Pentagon employees.

While Operation Iraqi Child is busy making sure children in Iraq and Afghanistan have what they need to learn, the Red Nose Institute is busy making sure they, and the adults around them, have a good laugh.

The institute provides servicemembers with red foam clown noses, guaranteed to at least evoke a smile, Cheryl Herrington, one of the founders, said. "I'm a psychiatric nurse, and mental health is so important," she said. "Anything we can do to cheer them up, anything we can do to let them know we care and we're thinking about them."

If the noses can make a few kids smile along the way, then all the better, she said.

Today, however, was about making sure as many people as possible know how to do that and learning new tricks of the non-profit trade from other grassroots groups on site. "Getting to talk to them and see how they do things, share ideas and just brainstorm together has helped a lot already," Herrington said.

Marine Master Sgt. Matt Torres, postal affairs chief at Marine Headquarters agreed, adding that servicemembers need and appreciate the support represented at the Pentagon today.

Torres was at the Pentagon representing "Motomail." The free program allows loved ones at home to send e-mail to deployed servicemembers, which are then printed so they can be read again and again. The Marine Corps is the only service currently using this program.

"They need to know that America's behind them," he said. "Having been there myself, you don't realize that until you see the Motomails coming and you see the care packages coming from the support groups."

The knowledge that someone is helping take care of things on the home front provides deployed servicemembers with peace of mind, said Torres, who served in Al Asad Air Base in Iraq in 2006.

"When you're over there, insurance will expire, Mom and Dad still need taking care of, the kids still go to school," Torres said. "If [deployed troops] have that peace of mind that somebody back home is taking care of their affairs, we're going to win the war."

For their part, members of the grassroots groups said they are just here to help support the troops.

"I'm very honored to be here," said Joy Westenberg, program manager for Project Evergreen, which provides lawn care for families of deployed servicemembers, as she fought back tears. "Today, it's just to get the word out that we're here to help."

The groups represented at the Pentagon today are just 38 of the nearly 400 that support America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.

*Related Sites:*
Operation Iraqi Children  [ ]
The Red Nose Institute [ ]
Motomail [ ]
Project Evergreen [ ]
Groups' Gathering at Pentagon Shows America's Support [ ]