- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Little things mean a lot, particularly if they are made from red construction paper and library paste.
And one former police officer wants a million of them before Valentine's Day.
"This is about the small but very powerful gesture," said Michael Fleming, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer on a sentimental but fiercely determined mission.
Mr. Fleming has organized Valentines for Troops, a homespun outreach to American military service members overseas who have little to look forward to Feb. 14.
"One little card can have a mighty impact," he said Wednesday.
Thanks to publicity and a new Web site (www.valentinesfortroops.com), 100,000 cards have arrived in four days at the family-entertainment complex Mr. Fleming operates in the San Fernando Valley.
And they keep coming. Mr. Fleming has 200 volunteers to help with the sorting.
"Every card is handmade. That means it's from the heart," he said. "About 90 percent of these are from children, though we've gotten a few from women scouting for husbands."
Some of the cards are crayon scribbles from toddlers, others elaborate constructions emblazoned with stars and stripes. Negative messages are few.
"We have gotten some cards which ask, 'Why are you over there? Come home.' Now, I understand free expression," Mr. Fleming said. "We don't mean to censor. But this is a program of support and inspiration, not criticism. There are forums for criticism. This just isn't it."
He offers spare editorial guidelines that nevertheless speak volumes about some visceral military challenges.
"The more positive the message, the better," the project Web site notes. "Care should be taken not to refer to anything that may cause grief or uneasiness to the military reader i.e., 'I hope you don't get killed' or 'Do you miss your family?'"
Any size card is welcome, but no envelopes. Mr. Fleming asks artists to forgo glitter, candy and money. One boy sent his lunch money taped to the top of his card with the message, "You can use this more than I can."
It is a massive project.
Screened cards are packed off to California military bases to be sent overseas by Valentine's Day, an organizational challenge that Mr. Fleming, 51, shares with his business partner, Paul Kramer, and brother David, also a former LAPD officer.
The three pay for incidental costs themselves and have set Feb. 12 as a deadline for receiving cards.
"We tried this on a smaller scale last year," Mr. Fleming said. "And I had a card campaign during the Gulf war, too. My best moment was seeing a 19-year-old sailor read a card once. He couldn't believe how much people cared. But they do."
Valentine's Day and the military, in fact, is an idea that resonates with Americans.
Last year, cable music channel VH-1 taped Valentine's Day video dedications from troops in South Korea, Kuwait and aboard the USS Stennis for loved ones back home.
The Department of Defense, meanwhile, organized Operation Valentine with a little feminine might: The project was organized by wives of ambassadors, lawmakers, federal judges, journalists and military leaders, including Mary Jo Myers, wife of Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
Children in 4,000 schools blanketed overseas troops with cards while two candy-lobbying groups donated a veritable tankload of sweets.
Although the Department of Defense has become skittish about soliciting greetings for troops because of increased security concerns in recent months, the support program founded by newspaper columnist Abigail Van Buren during the Vietnam era is still operational for e-mailed greetings (https://anyservicemember.navy.mil).
New York-based volunteer organization Military Moms (www.militarymoms.net) sent several thousand Valentines to overseas troops last year.
Now 20 years old, the California-based nonprofit group Support the Troops (www.supportthetroops.com) sends books as part of its America Remembers campaign.

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