Helping troops: Support plays big role in morale


FORT RILEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. – Support from people in the United States helps make serving in a hostile environment a bit easier for military troops deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Letters from school children, free phone cards, care packages from family and office mates and banners signed by hundreds at community events are among the expressions of gratitude seen throughout the region by men and women in uniform.

Frequent stop. At one forward-deployed location, the American Red Cross office is a stop off-duty airmen often make on their way from the dining facility or nearby recreation center.

On the shelves for the taking are donated personal-care items as well as a variety of snacks.

“You’ve got some hot-ticket items that fly right out of here,” said Leslie Smith, Red Cross station director. She listed lip balm, shaving cream, popcorn and candy as popular grabs.

The station also has movies for people to sign out, puzzles galore and almost always a hot pot of coffee and cookies.

Outside love. Staff Sgt. Margarita Toledo from the 12th Expeditionary Intelligence Squadron became a pen pal with a class of students in a school near her hometown in Illinois after she found a bunch of letters at the Red Cross office.

Staff Sgt. Greg Butcher from the 363rd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, who is deployed from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said he visits the Red Cross on his way to chapel services.

More support is visible on a wall near the entrance to the station. On a 12-foot sign, bold red letters read, “Thank you for protecting our country.”

Hand-signed notes surround the larger message with a variety of sentiments including: “You have made America proud. Ya’ll rock. Stay safe. God bless and bring you home.”

Cards home. Butcher said he has sent home several free greeting cards from a selection sorted by occasion in boxes inside the Red Cross office. These have included Christmas and birthday cards for his mother, father, brother and wife since his arrival here in October.

Thank you. Some support is less tangible but just as important.

As of early March, more than 6 million people had electronically signed an online thank you note found at

Although direct letters to service members have been curtailed because of security concerns, Operation Dear Abby letters are accessible online at

The program has supported deployed troops since 1967, when Sgt. Billy Thompson wrote Abigail Van Buren asking for the simple Christmas present of “just a letter from home.”

Letters still pour in from every state and even other countries around the world.

Calling home. Many deploying service members receive Operation Uplink phone cards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Cards can be requested at 816-968-1129 or e-mail

Senior Airman Jeremiah Carley of the 363rd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, who is deployed from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., thinks the program is “just great.”

He recently used one of the cards to speak with his wife and 2-year-old son as they visited family in Pennsylvania. He said he appreciates the support.

“I think they’re thinking about us all over America,” he said.


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