Voices of the Clarion: Staying closer to home

Little things make a big difference for those in service

Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2005

Whether fighting directly in gun battles against insurgents in Iraq or helping care for wounded soldiers at the U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, members of America's military find personal strength in the support they are shown by family and friends and others back home in the United States.

Veterans of past wars will attest to how great it was to receive a letter from home or a box of goodies from a family member while stationed in some faraway place for a year or more.

During the Vietnam war, while I was stationed overseas at an Army air defense missile installation, I received a box of home-baked chocolate chip cookies from one of my aunts.

By the time the box got to me, however, the cookies had been reduced to nothing but crumbs and chocolate chips.

Nonetheless, my fellow soldiers and I dug in with spoons. That was 35 years ago and the wonderful memory is still vivid.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, have altered the way people can show support for America's troops stationed far from home, but the value of showing that support remains the same.

Some veterans organizations, such as AmVets here on the Kenai Peninsula, have championed the cause of sending care packages to military men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If provided with the name of a service person, the post will put together a box of approved items and send it directly to the service person's unit.

The American Legion also has rallied behind the support the troops effort.

The nation's largest veterans organization has designed a handy resource guide for service men and women and their families who are left behind when units are deployed overseas.

In addition to providing information directly related to the service person, the 4- by 6-inch guide also has helpful tips for family members of those deployed overseas.

Through the Family Support Network, families can be connected to the American Legion to get help with simple things like the parent who is left to raise children alone and needs assistance with yard work, day care, transportation or other day-to-day tasks.

Families also can get help with more serious health-care issues, financial planning or emotional difficulties.

All it takes is a call to the Family Support Network's nationwide, toll-free number: (800) 504-4098.

The brochure also tells families how to get information on cash grants available through the American Legion's Temporary Financial Assistance program.

The Legion's Reconnect Program also is outlined in the new brochure.

Service members can learn of programs connecting veterans of past wars, through American Legion posts, with people currently serving on area military installations.

Reconnect also informs soldiers of the many Legion programs designed to help them and their communities.

Other helpful information in the Troop Support Services brochure includes toll-free contact numbers for the Disabled Soldier Support System, which provides advocacy and personal support to severely disabled soldiers through the American Legion; Veterans Administration disability compensation representatives; and VA medical and dental care facilities.

Military service members also can learn about vocational rehabilitation available to them once they return from service, VA life insurance, readjustment counseling services, VA educational assistance and the G.I. Bill, VA home-loan guarantees, employment opportunities and reemployment rights.

A wallet-size tear-out card at the back of the brochure provides a handy comparison of time zones around the world for troops wanting to call home or send an e-mail message in a timely manner.

The reverse side of the card has a condensed directory of Troop Support Services available through the Veterans Administration or the American Legion.

The brochures are being made available through Legion posts around the country or directly from American Legion National Headquarters at P.O. Box 1055, Indianapolis, IN 46206.

Though the world is a different place than it was 35 years ago, with satellite telephone and e-mail connections, I'm sure a letter from a loved one or a box of chocolate chip cookies — even those reduced to crumbs — would be received with the exact same welcome.

Cookies aside, getting the new brochure from the American Legion into the hands of service members and their families is a thoughtful way to show continued support for deployed soldiers, wherever they are serving.

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Clarion.

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