Americans show massive outpouring of support for troops
April 6, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Retired Army Maj. Bill Schultz wasn’t physically harmed while being held hostage by Saddam Hussein during Desert Storm.
Yet he still bears the mental scars, not inflicted by the enemy, but by the media’s focus on negative American reaction to the war.
It’s a memory that Schultz said still sears.
While held hostage, his captors handed him a copy of the daily Iraqi newspaper.
On the front page was a story about a U.S. anti-war demonstration.
By coincidence, the demonstration was held in Schultz’ hometown of Eugene, Ore.
“It’s bad enough to hear or read about such things while being in harm’s way,” Schultz wrote in a March 20 e-mail to Stripes.
“But to have the demonstration take place in my hometown was devastating on my morale to the point that I have never really gotten over it.”
After his release in December 1990, Schultz returned to Eugene, where “I happened to notice a gathering of folks … in support of the troops. [But] this event was not reported on the national nor local news media.
“Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have known it even happened,” he wrote. “The lack of coverage angered me.”
Schultz is just one of dozens of veterans and concerned citizens who have contacted Stars and Stripes, anxious to ensure that troops involved in the new war won’t be discouraged by reports of anti-war demonstrations back in the United States.
Many of the most worried people are from the Vietnam era, like J. Larry “Mac” McAdams, a member of the famed “Freight Trainers,” the Chinook-flying 243rd Assault Support Helicopter Company
“The problem now, as I see it, is making sure that the troops shipping over now don’t suffer the same b.s. we Vietnam vets had to put up with going over and coming home,” Mac wrote in a March e-mail to Stripes from his home in Texas.
“Wanna protest the government, have at it. Spit on a vet, answer to this old 56-year-old fart,” Mac wrote.
During the buildup to the war in Iraq, television and newspaper reports often focused on anti-war rallies.
But that focus has changed significantly since the first bombs began to drop on Baghdad.
Media outlets that once focused on the 30 percent of U.S. citizens who say they do not support the war now are focusing on the seven out of 10 Americans who say they fully support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The farther U.S. troops make their way into Baghdad, the more the U.S. polls show support for the war climbing.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late March showed that more than seven in 10 Americans back President Bush’s decision to go to war, a number that hasn’t changed since the campaign opened March 20.
And even people who don’t like the war are quick to say they support the troops.
“It’s insane that we’re in Iraq, but since we are, I would never say anything bad about the people who are fighting,” said Joan, an Alexandria, Va., resident who asked that her last name not be used because she said she was afraid of receiving negative phone calls from war supporters.
“The troops are doing what they are sworn to do,” Joan said. “I respect them for that.”
While sporadic anti-war demonstrations are continuing, the big crowds are now marching in support of American troops.
From Wheeling, W.Va., to Ashland, Ky., Worcester, Mass., to Fairbanks, Alaska, rallies in support of U.S. troops are occurring every day of the week.
One of the largest series of marches is the “Rallies for America” that are being organized by syndicated radio host Glenn Beck.
As of April 3, pro-troop rallies had been held in 15 U.S. cities, with a total of several hundred thousand people in attendance, according to counts by Beck’s organization and independent media outlets.
When people aren’t marching in support of troops, they are letting their fingers do the walking.
Some are writing to newspapers: At Stars and Stripes’ Internet site, a special section that is set up for people to write messages of support to troops has proved enormously popular.
And around the country, individuals, churches, civic groups, schools and local governments are setting up projects designed to send troops banners, care packages, letters, and other outpourings of love and concern.
“Everyone wants to do something to help,” said Joseph Finch, a Vietnam veteran and retired Army officer who now works as an engineer.
Concerned about force protection, the Defense Department pulled the plug on the long-standing “Any Servicemember” and “Operation Dear Abby” programs, which allowed Americans to send packages and letters to random deployed troops.
But determined Americans simply switched tactics.
They tapped friends, recruiters and even random acquaintances for the APO addresses of actual deployed members, and then sent their packages and letters to that unit.
Many groups and individuals also posted known “good” APO addresses on Internet sites or in chain e-mails, which also urged readers to send food, sundries and letters to the units.
The flood of packages and letters directed overseas quickly became so enormous that the Defense Department finally had to ask people to cease and desist.
A carefully worded March 26 policy memorandum issued by the office of the Secretary of Defense lauded the “well-intentioned, thoughtful and patriotic groups who are simply unaware of the new risks facing deployed military forces.”
Those groups who are publicizing the names and addresses of servicemembers, ships or units on Web sites have “with good intentions,” the memo said. “The result, however, is a potential danger to the troops they wish to support.”
Force protection was not the only consideration — the extra burden on the postal system has slowed down the flow of mail between the United States and the Persian Gulf.
As a result, family members of deployed troops are reporting that mail now takes four weeks or longer to reach the Persian Gulf.
Yet despite the logistical problems caused by the outpouring of support, no one in DOD wants to discourage Americans from showing their concern for deployed troops.
Instead, defense officials are asking people to redirect their efforts to the following Web sites, which include ways to send greeting cards, virtual “Thank You” cards, and telephone calling card donations to help troops stay in contact with their families:
For information on “Rallies for America,” go to: www.glennbeck.com/home/rally.shtml