- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

It would probably surprise Americans to learn that many U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq arrive back in this country with only the clothes on their backs.
"They come with nothing no underwear, no robes or gowns [for hospital stays], no toiletries, no food," said Susan Brewer of Silver Spring, founder and president of a nonprofit group called America's Heroes of Freedom, which is involved in a campaign to fill that void.
Today a truck will be delivering about 280 boxes of new brand-name goods donated by people in nearly every state to Andrews Air Force Base, where both the war-injured and prisoners of war touch down when they return to the United States.
"We did not know we'd get this volume of goods, and we've got no warehouse. But this is a good problem to have," said David Harden, Mrs. Brewer's son, who yesterday collected about 30 boxes of donated clothes and supplies that had been sent to a D.C. post office.
Those boxes were taken to the Silver Spring home of Jacqueline Garrick, the group's executive director, and added to the stash of 250 relief boxes that were being stored there awaiting today's pickup.
Mrs. Brewer said the group was established to provide food and other assistance for families of the victims of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.
The group got involved in efforts to help returning troops at the request of Lisa Lurake, the wife of an Air Force wing commander who related how the wounded come back to the United States from Iraq empty-handed.
"She told us how wounded soldiers have nothing when they get to Andrews Air Force Base," where they remain temporarily before being taken to the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda or Walter Reed Army Hospital, Mrs. Brewer said yesterday in an interview.
"I told her we would be honored to help with that cause," she said.
The group initially responded by delivering 200 sets of basic necessities, such as T-shirts, undergarments, sweat pants, socks, robes, pajamas, rubber slippers, toiletries, packaged foods and reading material to Andrew's Air Force Base on April 13. "Cosco's and Sam's donated everything," she said.
The day before that delivery, Mrs. Brewer said, POW Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and 49 other military combat soldiers arrived at Andrew's "in good spirits and fair condition" but without extra clothing most would view as necessities.
"The Red Cross was out there, but what they had was so meager: Girl Scout cookies," Mrs. Brewer said.
When the group delivered its gifts the next day, Brig. Gen. Glenn Spears, commander at Andrews Air Force Base, greeted and thanked them.
That was just the beginning. Some TV personalities at Fox News discovered the group's Web site (www.ahof.us) and decided more people should know about what they were doing to help returning troops.
The Fox News broadcast about the group's efforts also provided the mailing address for the organization's donation campaign: PO Box 18984, Washington, D.C. 20036.
Mrs. Brewer said she was stunned when, within days, the Postal Service called and said, "You've got hundreds of boxes here."
Every gift received has been sorted and itemized. "If John and Sally Doe sent two toothbrushes, two tubes of toothpaste and one deodorant, it's all logged," she said.
Much of the clothing received carries designer or upscale labels such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, L.L. Bean and Nike. "I've never seen anything like this, Mrs. Brewer said. "I'm just so proud."
"Some people spent up to $50 to ship their packages by Priority Mail" so they would arrive earlier, Mrs. Brewer added.
She said some schools and churches also "sent beautiful cards and letters," which will be displayed for troops arriving at Andrews.
The group says it's thrilled to be providing this service. Having been told that such needs will persist, the group is discussing continued coordinated efforts with Andrews Air Force Base. About 180 U.S. troops have arrived there, Mrs. Brewer said.
"These needs are too important to not be met," she said.
"Our troops are our heroes. This is our way as Americans of saying to them, 'We have not forgotten you.'"

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