News

Freedom Walk Helps Groups Spread Word

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2007 - As thousands of people filled the Pentagon parking lot at the end of the third America Supports You Freedom Walk today, they were greeted by groups individually working toward the collective goal of supporting troops and their families.

Representatives of more than 20 groups that support America Supports You were on hand to let people know what they do for the troops. America Supports You is a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

The groups, which send care packages and letters, offer support to wounded servicemembers, and assist military families agreed the walk gave them the opportunity to tell the participants how they could support the troops.

"There's a lot of people out there that don't realize that you can write to a servicemember," said Kristen Petrella, president of the New Jersey-based Hugs from Home, a letter-writing group. "We're going to ... let them know that, 'Yes, you can do that.'"

Landstuhl Hospital Care Project, treasurer Sharon Buck, said her group participated for the same reason. "Our purpose today is to hand out pamphlets if people are interested in learning what our mission is," she said.

The project supports the chaplains' center at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Buck said. Its support arrives at the chaplains' center in the form of a black backpack containing basic necessities that wounded servicemembers may need but not have when they arrive in Germany, such as underwear, T-shirts, toiletries and other needed items.

Another group participating in the post-Freedom Walk activities, Soldiers' Angels, successfully spread the word about its efforts by attracting walkers like Karina Rollins with the opportunity to write a message to the troops. The Washington resident, who plans to "adopt" a servicemember through the group, said supporting the troops is a must for her despite not having any ties to the military.

"I do not have a family member or a friend who is in Iraq, so it's not a personal thing in that sense," Rollins said. "We need to show them that we care about more than getting soy lattes and watching 'American Idol.' We need to show that we understand that there is something very big and important going on."

The support groups and walkers said the Freedom Walk did just that, and has done so since the inaugural event on the fourth anniversary of the attacks.

"We need to keep the memory alive," Carol Watanabe, lead volunteer with Little Patriots Embraced, a Missouri group, said. "It's important to rally the American people and make them understand that we support ... our troops.

"There's nothing more important than our troops knowing that we are standing behind them," she said.

Little Patriots Embraced works to relieve stress on the families of deployed servicemembers through care packages that include teddy bears, writing journals and blankets for newborns, Watanabe said.

Cindi Bookout, president of Operation Homefront's D.C. Metro chapter, agreed that letting troops and their families know they have support is paramount. Her group accomplishes this through chapters in 31 states that provide support to the families of deployed servicemembers.

"The Freedom Walk is important because it lets (servicemembers) know that there are thousands of people all over the United States ? not just here in Washington, D.C., but all over the (country) ? that support our servicemembers," she said.

With more than 230 walks scheduled to take place between yesterday and Sept. 11, in all 50 states and 10 countries, Americans are doing just that -- thanking those who serve, remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and commemorating the tragic events of six years ago.

This year's America Supports You Freedom Walk began at the Lincoln Memorial and ended with a musical tribute by the Harlem Gospel Choir in the Pentagon's parking lot.

Freedom Walk Helps Groups Spread Word [ http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=47373 ]