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Taking care of our armed forces

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on December 29, 2006
(Issue 2452, New Year's Survival Guide)

Typically, we use the last column of the year to look over the past 12 months and review where we've been in the online world: What trends we observed, what online businesses and ventures were successful, and which ones not.

We can do that next week.

This week, we visit the "Better Late Than Never" department and look at how the Internet is making it possible to send greetings to our men and women in uniform serving their country overseas.

Amazingly, distressingly, some of these service members don't receive any packages for the holidays.

That's why military support groups have set up programs so that all of us – no matter what we may think of any specific military action our governments sends these men and women to – who are grateful to those who serve in our name can step up and make sure none are forgotten when serving during holidays far from home.

America Supports You

America Supports You is a great starting point run by the Pentagon as a safe, trustworthy place for citizens to find ways to help troops and their families. From here, you can find links to specific programs where you can e-mail messages to troops in the field, adopt a service member, or find a pen pal in the military.

You can even help out in ways you might not have thought of: Donate frequent flyer miles so service members can visit family while on leave. Donate calling cards so troops can call loved ones and friends back home. Donate paperbacks to give our service members something new to read during their down time. Donate to scholarships for the children of the men and women who don't make it back home.

Regardless of how you want to help, there are literally hundreds of organizations linked from the above site – organizations vetted by the Defense Department so you know your money is really going to help.


Anyone who served during World War II, Korea or Vietnam knows about the USO: the United Service Organizations. Founded during WWII to help provide morale-building events for young soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen away from home during time of war, the USO continues to serve those who serve us.

While USO centers near major military hubs and overseas facilities (including one in downtown San Diego) still provide social events and comfortable recreation centers where service members can relax while off-duty, they also provide a way for the rest of us to help support our service members.

Today's soldier, Marine, sailor or airman isn't going to be much interested in hearing a big band play the latest swing hits anymore – but that doesn't mean the USO doesn't still use music to promote morale.

The USO Web site has a link off its home page where you can purchase song credits to donate to service members they can use to download their favorite songs to their portable MP3 players. YOU might not like the latest rap hit, but the young person serving to protect your freedoms sure will.

Plus, even though Bob Hope is no longer with us, his spirit of service carries on. Numerous singers, actors, athletes and other entertainers willingly give up their holidays with family and friends to travel to where our troop serve in harm's way and bring a bit of holiday cheer to them.

Operation Dear Abby

Syndicated newspaper columnist Dear Abby has been helping folks write to service members during the holidays for 30 years now. Due to security concerns, the Pentagon suspended Operation Dear Abby's traditional method of sending cards and letters to troops – but the program is now available online. Best of all: It now operates year-round. You simply type in your message, and the Pentagon site stores it with your first name and message. Internet stations are provided to troops in the field, where they can read and respond to the messages from the folks back home.

Trees for Troops

While my tardiness means it's a bit late to help send Christmas trees to deployed troops and their families back home this year, it's not too late to start helping for next year. The Trees for Troops program was set to deliver more than 11,000 natural trees this year.

Eight trees were sent in early December to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower during its operations in the eastern Mediterranean in support of ground troops in Afghanistan. They were set up in the mess halls and decorated by the sailors and Marines aboard, according to a news story written by a Navy journalist aboard the Ike.

While the trees are donated by tree farmers, and the trees are delivered for free by FedEx, those interested in helping can donate at the above Web site, with funds going to purchase additional trees above and beyond those donated.