DON WINSLOW: A Great Way to Thank Our Military Abroad
The holidays are approaching, and everyone is getting into a tizzy over what to give and to whom.
We all give gifts to our family. Our kids and grandkids look forward to getting that special present or three while the old folks keep insisting there is nothing they need.
As to the rest of the population out there, it's anyone's call as to whether the newsboy or the gardener gets a special something at Christmastime.
But this year, there is someone special that everyone can thank for his and her efforts. I'm talking about the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who will be spending the holidays away from home hunkered down in a foreign land, battling on our behalf while we feast and celebrate.
Stephen Barr, in a recent Washington Post column, reported that the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), in partnership with various charitable organizations, is sponsoring a program called "Gifts from the Homeland" this holiday season. Working with AAFES are the USO, the American Red Cross, the Air Force Aid Society, Operation Homefront, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and others.
The program will provide gift certificates to U.S. military personnel serving in the Middle East that can be redeemed at any of the 53 stores or 187 fast-food restaurants the Exchange Service operates in the region.
To send a certificate -- they come in $5 to $50 amounts -- all one has to do is either call 877-770-4438 or go to the www.aafes.org website.
The gift certificate can be sent to a specific individual or, if you don't have a particular person in mind, to "any service member."
I mentioned the program to a few friends in Whispering Pines, and they unanimously agreed the idea of thanking the troops in this way is a great one.
There was a question as to how it was decided who the "any service member" might be. But Barr, in his article, pointed out that the exchange turns to its nonprofit partners to help decide who gets the certificates. Recommendations from commanders and non-commissioned officers identify military in financial need or in need of a cheer-up.
Though it has always been a custom to send "care" packages or boxes of cookies or other goodies to our troops, it is not a good idea to do so in this day and age of terrorism as all packages and boxes, especially from strangers, are suspect.
Besides, Barr quoted Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Eaton as pointing out that when you ship snacks and goodies to our soldiers and Marines, by the time the packages arrive "a Mars bar does not make it to Iraq looking like it did when it left the states."
Many years ago while I was in the Navy, Uncle Sam provided me the "opportunity" to spend holidays away from my wife and family. I was recalled to active duty in the early 1960s when the Berlin crisis was rumbling across the globe and my destroyer, the USS Tills, was dispatched to Cuba where we remained for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, and beyond.
Though sitting in the relative comfort of a ship and sleeping on a mattress every night was not a hardship, the vigil was a lonely one interrupted maybe every 10 days by a letter. A package never would have made it and if it did, the chocolate chip cookies would probably have made small but effective hockey pucks.
So I know that, in my case, a gift certificate from home, whether from a friend or a stranger, would have been much appreciated even though my situation cannot compare to the dangerous one our military faces in the Muslim world today.
It seems destiny had a hand in my discovery of the "Gifts from the Homeland" program. We had traveled to the Outer Banks for Thanksgiving and were in Corolla when a severe northeaster hit the area. Every morning during our six days there, I went to the local convenience store and bought a USA Today.
The day the storm was in full force, I passed up the chance to buy a newspaper, but my son-in-law, braving the elements, went off and bought me a gazette. By mistake, he picked up The Washington Post. And lo and behold, that was the day the column about the program was published.
So I pass along the information and hope more than a few of us in Moore County take advantage of the opportunity to tell our military men and women "thanks" for all they are doing for us. I know I will.
Don Winslow writes about life in Whispering Pines. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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