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Add a soldier to your Christmas card list

POSTED: December 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.

When sending out Christmas cards this year, groups who support veterans and active duty troops want you to consider adding one more to your list: a soldier or veteran who can’t be home for the holidays.

Getting cards, letters or packages from back home — even from a complete stranger — can mean a lot to troops who are away from home during the holidays.

"It tells you that somebody is thinking of you," said Dave Dellinger, a Vietnam veteran from Gainesville. "You get a little lonely out there. You have your buddies, but you still get lonely because that’s not your family."

Though e-mails have been circulating listing a mailing address to send cards to a "Recovering American Soldier" or "Any Wounded Soldier" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, that request is not valid. Snopes.com, a Web site which debunks common fallacies and misinformation, reports that Walter Reed officials have said items sent to the Washington, D.C., military hospital will not be delivered.

Dellinger, vice president of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said he also has been told that this information is not correct.

"I’ve been told that that (address) does not work," he said. "You have to have the name of a specific soldier" to send cards or letters to a military facility.

In 2007, Walter Reed contacted the Red Cross to distribute the some 600,000 cards and letters which had been received at facility, according to a Red Cross news release. This year, Red Cross officials hope to send 1 million cards to military bases and hospitals, veterans hospitals and other locations around the world through the "Holiday Mail for Heroes" campaign.

All cards must be postmarked by Dec. 10 and cannot contain any inserts of any kind — including phone cards, letters and personal information — and must be signed.

If you want to help specific troops, but don’t know any, local Vietnam veterans have set up a way to do just that.

Through a program called Patriot’s Call, Dellinger’s chapter and other members of the community are helping the 130 troops in the Gainesville-based Charlie Company of the Army National Guard and their families. The unit is set to deploy to Afghanistan next year.

"It’s not just taking care of the families," Dellinger said. "It doesn’t end there. We’ll support the troops while they are overseas, as well."

Dellinger said assistance is being arranged through the company’s Staff Sgt. Casey Taylor, who will remain stateside when the unit deploys. Help may range from sending cards or care packages to the troops — toiletries and beef jerky are most popular — to arranging repair services for wives left at home. Because of security reasons, addresses for troops and military families won’t be released, instead Taylor will coordinate donations or offers of help, Dellinger said.

"A lot of us old veterans, we’re not going to let the young guys down," Dellinger said. "We were let down when we came home from Vietnam, and we’re not going to let that happen again."

There also are countless national groups with the goal of helping the public send letters, phone cards, care packages and even cash donations and gift certificates to any member of the armed forces.

The Red Cross Web site lists links to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, an unofficial Department of Defense Web site, and America Supports You, which is operated through the Department of Defense. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service allows the public to send phone cards and gift certificates to soldiers and military families in a variety of amounts. America Supports You, which also is listed on the Walter Reed Web site, contains links to hundreds of programs and organizations, divided by category, that are dedicated to helping members of the armed forces and military families.

Walter Reed also includes a link to another military Web site, Gifts to Army, which is operated through the office of the administrative assistant to the Secretary of the Army. It includes not only includes details on how the public can help soldiers and their families, but also information on how contributions are used.



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