- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

The holiday season can be maddening. There are so many gifts to buy, cards to send, lights to hang, homes to decorate, parties to attend, and people to see.

Just thinking about it can be a burden. It seems like since before we even marked Halloween off our calendars, department stores wanted us in this holiday frenzy.

I think I speak for most Americans when I say this holiday season just does not compare with any other before it. The tragedy of September 11 has helped people pause and recognize the things for which we are truly grateful this holiday season. In most cases, those "things" can't be bought in a store, wrapped in a bow, or shipped in the mail.

People who used to splurge or even compete when it came to holiday gift-giving, just want to spend time with their loved ones. More are donating to charities instead of going to malls. People are spending less and giving more.

I've heard people say they don't want anything for Christmas; they just want to spend time with those who matter most. Now more than ever this holiday season, people are counting their blessings faith, family and friends top the list. No doubt about it, also on that list is freedom.

Operation Enduring Freedom has helped thrust our precious freedom and those who protect it into the spotlight. In response to September 11, people are asking, "What can I do to help in our fight against terrorism."

I believe one of the most important things we can do as a country is show strong support for our military men and women. This holiday season, I urge those who just want to "do something," but don't know where to start, to write our troops.

As a veteran of two wars who spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of war, more than half of that time in solitary confinement, I know first-hand how uplifting a letter from home can be.

Recently, the Department of Defense announced a new-generation alternative to the "Any Servicemember" and "Operation Dear Abby" programs in which anyone can send a letter to any service member. Unfortunately, these programs were suspended indefinitely in the wake of anthrax mail attacks.

In addition, according to the Department of Defense, the increased manpower required to ensure safe mail handling, coupled with the increased volume of mail that letter-writing campaigns generate, could exceed capabilities and therefore cannot be supported at this time.

This new user-friendly Internet system protects our troops and shows America's support. Just click on https://www.LIFELines2000.org or https://AnyServiceMember.Navy.mil and type. While this program was created by the Navy, writers have access to members in all service branches.

No doubt about it, serving your country is a great honor. However, it would be a lie to say that you don't miss family, friends, or America. Receiving encouraging messages of support from back home is a real boost and a great way to stay focused on the mission at hand winning the war for freedom.

It's ironic a terrorist attack designed to bring down America has brought our country closer together. As a veteran, it's definitely heartening to see homes and businesses flying Old Glory and people and cars donning flags. But I know that we can take it one step further.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every American channeled this patriotism and sent at least one message a week to our military men and women? Imagine how amazed our troops would be. There is even a place for you to leave your e-mail so you may get a response from time to time from the recipient, security permitting.

This is also an excellent and inexpensive family activity. What a great way to celebrate the holiday season by going to the local library, logging onto the world wide web and sending a message of support to a soldier overseas. This will help young people feel like they're more involved. Tell the soldier how much your family values your freedom the freedom to go to school, to learn, to work. Tell him or her that you plan to practice your faith and you have him or her to thank for that luxury.

I urge you to send a message to our troops today. Your one letter of support may be the most touching gift a soldier far from home receives this holiday season.

Rep. Sam Johnson, a 29-year Air Force veteran, now represents the Third Congressional District of Texas. Mr. Johnson and several of his fellow POWs vowed they would enter public office to change America after returning home from Vietnam.

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