- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 2004

There are plenty of ways to help U.S. servicemen overseas this holiday season, even with Christmas a few days away. Just ask 15-year-old Shauna Fleming of Anaheim Hills, Calif. Shauna started a wartime letter-writing campaign last spring in her high school that turned into something extraordinary. The campaign recently topped 1 million letters to soldiers with the aid of her Web site (www.amillionthanks.org). In a ceremony at the White House to commemorate the millionth letter, President Bush thanked Shauna personally and invited her and her parents into the Oval Office for a private chat. Shauna’s next goal: 1.4 million letters, one for each member of every service.

In years past, you could wrap up a care package and mail it to “Any Service Member” for the holidays. These days, the Pentagon is asking you not to do that. This doesn’t mean you can’t help. Financial contributions, letter-writing and e-mail, authorized pre-made care packages available for purchase or volunteer work through non-profits can all give servicemen a holiday blessing. Here are some of the best ways to do it.

One of the oldest options, the United Service Organization, is still one of the best. A general donation to the USO pays for hospital support for recuperating soldiers, the famous USO entertainment tours and other important services (call 1-800-876-7469 or visit www.uso.org/pubs/8_20_10417.cfm). The USO also pays for long-distance calls back home, pre-made care packages and even home computers for servicemens’ families. A $10 donation to Operation Phone Home buys a serviceman 100 minutes on the phone and pays to ship the card (1-800-901-1501 or www.uso.org/donate). $25 to Operation USO Care Package buys a safe and secure means of sending morale-boosting personal items (1-877-USO-GIVE or www.usocares.org). Gift certificates for use on military bases are also encouraged (1-877-770-4438) as is Operation Homelink, which gives computers to military families (1-312-863-6336 or www.operationhomelink.org).

Other trustworthy services are the Armed Forces Relief Trust (www.afrtrust.org) and the individual military relief agencies: the Army Emergency Relief (866-878-6378 or www.aerhq.org), the Air Force Aid Society (800-769-8951 or www.afas.org), the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (800-881-2462 or www.cgmahq.org) and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (703-696-4906 or www.nmcrs.org). These groups are officially sponsored by the Pentagon and provide vital emergency services but receive no government funding whatsoever. They rely entirely upon private donations to do their good work.

You can also help by simply sending an e-mail. You can log on to Shauna’s site (ww.amillionthanks.org) or you can use a new Pentagon program, “America Supports You,” which lets users send messages to soldiers and vice versa. “America Supports You” (www.americasupportsyou.mil) lets you read messages to soldiers and read messages the soldiers return from the front.

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