- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life can be good inside a hoodie. It is warm and snug in there - a cozy cocoon isolated from peripheral intrusion. In there, with the cowl snugged up and a pair of iPod earbuds plugged in, a guy can forget - at least for a little while - the pain of a relationship gone bad, or that his left leg has been blown away in Iraq by an improvised explosive device.

The American Legion wants to make sure every wounded warrior has the so-called “comfort” items, such as a hooded sweat suit or portable music player, that he or she needs or wants. That is the purpose of the Legion’s recently inaugurated Operation Comfort Warriors.

The launch of Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) was prompted when the American Legion learned that not all the wounded warriors being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere were in possession of the comfort items, specifically sweat suits, which they wanted. The military did not normally provide such items, and the Red Cross had run short.

Now, it may seem odd that a patient in a carefully climate-controlled hospital would wish to wear a sweat suit, but it makes sense when regarded in context. Health care centers house many heat-sensitive pieces of medical equipment. To maintain their proper operation and prevent failure, some of these critical machines must be maintained in air-conditioned breezes. That is why hospital rooms are often uncomfortably cool. So, imagine the chills felt by a bedridden wounded warrior who does not care to remain huddled permanently beneath blankets and whose internal thermostat may have been knocked totally out of whack by severe injuries. The donning of a hooded sweat suit is a natural wish.

The Red Cross wish-list message was dispatched immediately to Legion leaders and, on Dec. 2, their national commander, David K. Rehbein, announced the Operation Comfort Warriors launch. The operation’s fundraising goal was ambitious: $50,000 by the year-end holidays that were less than a month away. Yet, one week later, $30,000 had been raised and, with a little more publicity, more than $100,000 arrived - that is, double the original goal had been gathered as the New Year began. By April 1, the funds neared $150,000.

All funds donated to Operation Comfort Warriors are used to purchase comfort items. The money is used solely to purchase clothing, DVDs, electronic games and other items for wounded warriors recuperating at the Walter Reed and Bethesda National Naval Medical Centers, and elsewhere.

Currently, as many as 11,000 wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are recuperating in military medical installations. Approximately 700 are housed locally at Walter Reed and Bethesda, with the vast majority at the Army facility. Many wounded warriors have not yet received the comfort items they need and deserve. The American Legion, in concert with American Red Cross colleagues, is working as quickly as possible to remedy this.

The American Legion’s enthusiasm for Operation Comfort Warriors is shared by others. For instance, in mid-January the day before she was to offer a keynote speech at a Legion-hosted inaugural banquet and ball, TV actress Marg Helgenberger volunteered to deliver comfort items to heroes at Walter Reed. The “CSI” series star was scheduled to visit for one hour. She stayed three. She also asked the Legion to allow her to donate her talents to an Operation Comfort Warrior publicity campaign.

As some fortunate heroes learned one cold day at Walter Reed, life inside a hoodie can be good - especially if a beautiful woman is offering a warm smile just outside.

Craig Roberts is a former naval aviator and the media relations manager of the American Legion.

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