- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (AP) The fifth-graders at Holy Family School jockeyed for position around the tape recorder, each wanting their own voice to sound strong and clear.
After all, the recording of Christmas songs had a special destination American troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And not just any troops, but a platoon from the Army's 10th Mountain Division, based at nearby Fort Drum.
"It's Christmastime and they can't be with their families. We want them to smile and feel happy when they hear it," said Justin Warren.
The 10th Mountain is the military's most deployed division. Since 1992, many of its units assigned to duty elsewhere are "adopted" and sponsored by local businesses, schools, churches and civic organizations.
"This is America at its best," said the program's originator and coordinator, Michael Plummer, a retired Army colonel and former Fort Drum chief of staff. "Everyone wants to help and support one another; it's just that no one knows just how to do it."
Prospective sponsors eager to adopt Mountain Division soldiers in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan will have to wait until things settle down, Col. Plummer said yesterday. The Army wants family mail to units there to be given priority until its postal system is ready to cope with additional volume to Asian locations.
Sponsors send letters, photographs and care packages of baked treats, candy, magazines, paperback books, videos and tapes, plus essentials such as gloves and socks.
Candy "root beer barrels and Skittles are among the necessities of life," said Jodi Larsen, special-events manager at WNPE-WNPI, the public broadcasting station in Watertown, which sponsors a 10-member communications platoon in Kosovo.
"They may seem like silly little things that don't matter, but when you are stuck in a foreign place away from home and family, they are the things that can make a big difference," said Mrs. Larsen.
Her husband's platoon was adopted while it was assigned to Bosnia. "He said being able to stay in touch made the time go faster," she said.
Of Holy Family School's 311 students, 70 have a parent or parents stationed at Fort Drum, so sponsoring the platoon in Bosnia was an easy decision for the tiny Catholic grade school, said Principal Ellen Rose Coughlin. The platoon commander's daughter is in the fifth grade at the school.
"The fifth grade is quite taken up with it," said Miss Coughlin. "We know it picks up the troops' spirits because they tell us in their letters and it helps our students learn to think of a wider world."
Col. Plummer started the program in 1992 when 10th Mountain Division troops were sent to Florida to help victims of Hurricane Andrew.
Col. Plummer thought a support program on the platoon level would be the most manageable and provide the most individual contact for both soldiers and civilians.
"I try to match the larger organizations with the larger units as well as marry them on the basis of compatibility. I have ambulance companies sponsoring medical platoons, trucking companies sponsoring transportation units," said Col. Plummer, who runs the program out of his home.
To date, he has found sponsors for 24 Fort Drum platoons sent to the Sinai, 20 in Bosnia and 115 in Kosovo. He also has lined up sponsors for 100 other units throughout the Army.
"It is an excellent program," said John Grady, a spokesman for the Association of the United States Army national office in Arlington. Mr. Grady said he has encouraged other chapters to emulate the program, and other branches of the military are interested.
"Year after year, those folks have stepped forward. It is the kind of spirit that has made America so great," he said.

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