How You Can Salute the Troops

Operation Purple camps, for kids of the military, are sponsored by the National Military Family Association, which needs volunteers.
Operation Purple camps, for kids of the military, are sponsored by the National Military Family Association, which needs volunteers. (National Military Family Association Via Pr Newswire)

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By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 16, 2007

Public approval of the war in Iraq has eroded steeply (down nearly 20 percentage points in the past three years), but the number of nonprofit groups striving to support service members grows every week. A host of local groups do quiet but essential work to help deployed troops and their families.

If you have ever wondered how you could send a care package or otherwise donate your time to members of the armed forces, here are some ways to do so:

START WITH AMERICA SUPPORTS YOU, the one-stop volunteer smorgasbord. In November 2004, Allison Barber, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs at the Pentagon, conceived of and launched an umbrella wing of the department that would connect the country's far-flung military support groups. America Supports You started with five featured nonprofits and is now a virtual warehouse of links to 300 such groups nationwide that tackle tasks from computer donations to phone card procurement. New nonprofits submit applications every week, Barber says.

Visit America Supports You online ( http://www.americasupportsyou.mil) and click on "Homefront Groups" for nonprofits sorted by mission or "Connect to Homefront Organizations in Your State."

FULFILL THE DREAMS OF MILITARY KIDS. McLean resident Linda Davidson doesn't have family in the military, but she started Our Military Kids two years ago after hearing that children who live far from military bases could not take advantage of programs offered there. "I had occasion to speak to a guardsman and his family in North Carolina," says Davidson, the group's executive director. "They felt so isolated and didn't have access to a base. I thought, 'We're here in D.C. and have access to the government, so why not help kids to begin or continue sports and fine arts and tutoring?' "

Our Military Kids allows families to submit an application and a copy of the parent's deployment orders to obtain funding for a particular endeavor (be it lessons in taekwondo or participation in sports leagues). The organization needs help with fundraising. Call 703-734-6654 or visit http://www.ourmilitarykids.org.

DONATE FREQUENT-FLIER MILES. The Rockville-based Fisher House Foundation, which provides temporary housing to family members visiting bases or military medical facilities, is partnered with Operation Hero Miles to allow frequent fliers to donate their miles online. The miles fund trips for service members on leave or for families visiting wounded relatives at a medical center. Since late 2003, troops have been able to use 175 million miles for trips. Visit http://www.fisherhouse.org and click on "Hero Miles" or go to http://www.heromiles.org.

STOCK THE SHELVES at Landstuhl and Walter Reed. Troops who are seriously injured or who fall ill in Iraq or Afghanistan are often first sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southwestern Germany. The Virginia-based Landstuhl Hospital Care Project generally sends clothing (boxer shorts, sweats), says Sharon Buck of Upper Marlboro, the project's treasurer. The group's Web site also has helpful guidelines about what not to send to the hospital (used clothing and non-necessities such as books, bubble gum and magazines). Visit http://www.landstuhlhospitalcareproject.org for information on donating.

Another stop for the wounded is Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District, where the McLean-based Angels of Mercy organizes donations. The angels also gather once a month to sort and box clothing to send to Iraqi and Afghan children. To get involved, call 703-938-8930 or visit http://www.supportourwounded.org.

ADVOCATE ON BEHALF OF FAMILIES. Started in 1969 as the Military Wives Association, the Alexandria-based National Military Family Association is the voice for families on issues of government relations and quality of life. The association, which also sponsors Operation Purple summer camps for children of the military, is looking for people to stuff bags, answer phones, edit newsletters, support its Web site and attend congressional hearings to take notes. Visit http://www.nmfa.org and click on "Volunteer" for a list of open positions.


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