November 26, 2008

NOT HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

By Senator Mike Crapo

In recent years, many Americans have spent the holidays away from home, in defense of freedom. Much has changed for the better in Iraq over the past four years, even as our military and coalition forces as a whole ramp up efforts in Afghanistan. But, for over 200,000 military men and women in and around Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands deployed elsewhere around the world, the 2008 holidays will mean celebrating far from home. It is important to find ways to reach out to them and demonstrate our gratitude for their service to our nation.

Many Idahoans defend our security and freedom far from home. They will spend this holiday season separated from all that is comfortable and familiar. Just as they are patriots overseas, we can be patriots here at home. Idaho has a great tradition of supporting her soldiers in past wars, and this conflict is no different. Regular contact is the surest way to let these women and men know that they haven't been forgotten. For many of us, being away from home for the holidays is difficult; for those deployed with the military, it can be especially lonely.

Many concerned individuals and organizations provide numerous ways to support deployed military members. The primary Department of Defense volunteer clearinghouse, now in its fourth year, is called "America Supports You," and is designed to recognize and facilitate citizen support for our service members and their families. Local, state and national groups can register to be listed at the "America Supports You" website: www.americasupportsyou.mil. One particularly user-friendly section of the website is the "Thank the Troops" link from the home page. When you post a message to the troops, that message is searchable by name, city, keyword or state. Usually, military members deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have periodic access to the Internet, so take a few minutes and send a note. Those few moments will lift spirits and give encouragement. This year, a new program announced at Thanksgiving called "Help Our Troops Call Home," allows civilians to buy prepaid calling cards at the military's rate of 19 cents a minute from Iraq and Afghanistan-the regular rates can be as high as 56 cents a minute. This is the result of a partnership between AAFES, the Defense Department's store for military members, and AT&T. People can send the cards to a deployed loved one or just address the phone card to "Any Service Member." AAFES will coordinate with the USO, American Red Cross, Air Force Aid Society, Fisher House Foundation, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and the Soldier & Family Assistance Center. AAFES will also allow civilians to purchase AAFES gift cards for deployed soldiers that they can use at any of the approximately 60 stores on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Families of military members need the outreach of caring communities as well. There are many worthy organizations connecting enthusiastic, caring citizens with our military men and women and their families. Because the public cannot send unsolicited mail, care packages or donations to anonymous service members, and large numbers of packages sent to an individual service member is discouraged, these organizations provide an effective way to show our patriotism, appreciation and care for those who won't be home with us for the holidays. And remember, mailing deadlines for overseas mail can be found at the U.S. Postal Service website. Whether you are in uniform or not, make this season a season of service. My family and I wish our military, their families and all Idahoans a blessed and safe holiday!

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