Friday, September 22, 2006

Support the troops: 6 easy ways to really help

"Support the troops" -- we see the phrase on bumper stickers, signs, and those ubiquitous magnetic ribbons on cars. Regardless of your political position or your opinion of the conflicts overseas, here are six Web sites that make it easy to really support the troops. From postcards and care packages to school supplies for Iraqi kids, these are inexpensive, easy ways to show your support.

Better yet, they won't take any more time or effort than putting one of those yellow ribbon magnets on your trunk.

America Supports You: The U.S. military's official Web site for supporting service members. Includes plenty of links for getting involved, from donations of frequent-flyer miles and phone cards to homes for disabled vets, scholarships for children of service members, and sending letters and postcards of support.

The U.S.O.: Yes, this is the same organization that was responsible for Bob Hope's travels to entertain the troops all over the world across several decades. The U.S.O. is still sending entertainers overseas to boost troops' morale, and has numerous clubs across the U.S. where visiting service members can relax when stateside.

My Soldier: Founded by a Manhattanville College (NY) student who served in Iraq, this program matches up members one-on-one with a service member overseas who has requested to be part of the program. This lets you build a relationship with one service member, if you're willing to commit to keeping up a regular correspondence.

AnySoldier: For decades, Americans have sent packages to troops overseas by addressing them to "Any Soldier" and an APO address. This program takes the idea into the Internet age, allowing you to send packages that will be distributed to troops on an as-needed basis.

Books for Soldiers: This site had humble beginnings, seeking to provide some reading material for soldiers. It has now become a very versatile site that helps people send music, magazines, DVDs, and foods to troops. Individual soldiers or their supervisors send requests to the Web site, which posts them. One of the coolest things about this site is that you can search by types of items requested, by the branch of service, by where they serve (including U.S. locations), and even by their home state.

Operation Iraqi Children: Some U.S. troops are helping to build schools and improve the conditions for Iraqi children. This project, founded by actor Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump;" currently in "CSI:NY") and author Lauren Hillenbrand ("Seabiscuit") collects funds that are used to by school supplies for children in Iraq.

Please note: Make sure to read each site's FAQ or special instructions. Books, DVDs, and similar materials can be sent at a low "media mail" postage rate. Also, for service members stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, etc, sending alcohol or pornographic materials is a no-no; supporters need to be sensitive to the attitudes in the host country.

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