WEBSITE LINKS TROOPS TO SUPPORT

By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2006 – If you or another service member or military family you know needs help, the support you're seeking might be just a few clicks away on the America Supports You Web site.

“The green button on the site takes military members to a long list of resources and America Supports You partners, all standing by and ready to help,” Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told the American Forces Press Service.

“They include traditional military and government programs, but also corporate, grassroots and individual efforts that help meet needs the Defense Department simply can't,” said Barber. She came up with the program concept for America Supports You and oversees its operations.

Since its inception in November 2004, the program has provided a unique link between the American public and men and women in uniform. “We are doing it on a national scale and we just can't do enough,” Barber said.

It has gained steady momentum during the past year, expanding to a vast network of 25 corporate and 188 grassroots organizations.

For example, one link on the page takes visitors to organizations that donate frequent-flier miles so family members and friends can visit wounded troops recovering from combat injuries. Another links to groups that renovate homes and build ramps to accommodate returning troops' wheelchairs, all at no charge.

While many groups on the site focus specifically on wounded troops, many support all service members and their families in need. Some offer free phone cards for deployed troops so they can call home without stressing their budgets.

Others send care packages and letters of encouragement to deployed members. Still others help families keep the home fires burning during their loved one's deployment. Recognizing that family finances often get tight during deployment, some groups pitch in to cover emergency expenses or pick up the tab on niceties that too often go by the wayside during a deployment, Barber said.

One America Supports You team member cut a check directly to a mechanic to pay for a military family's desperately needed car repairs. Another pays for camps for deployed National Guard members' kids. “I don't want a second grader to not go to basketball camp because their mom or dad is deployed - especially when we have people who are ready to pay for that camp,” Barber said.

Barber acknowledged that the America Supports You program represents a culture change for service members, who traditionally have depended on the military community for the support they need. But it's an important shift that ultimately means better, more complete support for troops and their families, she said.

While recognizing the tremendous value of initiatives conducted at the service and Department of Defense levels, Barber said the program provides a conduit to services and programs beyond DoD's scope. “These are not programs that the Department of Defense is equipped to run. There are certain things that our grassroots groups and corporate team members can do for the military community that the military is not necessarily equipped to handle in the same way,” she said.

America Supports You might not have all the answers for everyone, but it sure will have a lot of answers and a lot of solutions for people,” Barber said. “We want to make sure that people add this program to their toolbox when they need help or when they're helping someone.”

Click on the AMERICA SUPPORTS YOU site.