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Several organizations have established programs that enable the public to send greetings and gift packages to troops involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom without violating force-protection restrictions on sending mail.

Family members, loved ones or friends should be the only ones sending unsolicited mail or care packages to deployed servicemembers, according to a Department of Defense news release.

But other well-wishers can e-mail messages or join an organization that gets donations out safely. Here are some Web sites that allow people to offer troops help:

¶ To send virtual greeting cards or simply say thank you, log onto Defend America at www.defendamerica.mil or Operation Dear Abby at http://anyservicemember.navy.mil/.

¶ To help a servicemember call home, contact Operation Uplink at www.operationuplink.org. Through this program, the Veterans of Foreign Wars provides free calling cards to military personnel. Operation Uplink distributed 900,000 cards in the last few months.

¶ Free messages of support are printed to servicemembers in the Stars and Stripes via messages@estripes.com. The messages must be no more than 50 words, may be screened and edited and are printed on a first-come, first-served basis. Click here for more details.

¶ Operation USO Care Package has taken the place of packages and letters formerly sent to “Any Service Member.” Military postal officials ended that program in October 2001 because of the anthrax threat. Information on the United Services Organization program can be found at www.usometrodc.org/care.html.

Donations and messages can also be sent to or dropped off at the the regional office in Mainz-Kastel, Germany. The donations are used for packages to troops containing prepaid international calling cards, disposable cameras, toiletries, snacks and sunscreen.

The mailing address is: USO Europe Unit 29623, CMR 444, Box 8100, APO AE 09096. Those wishing to make donations should first call DSN 334-2480 for details.

“The USO essentially serves as a bridge between the American people and servicemembers,” said Gail Camillo, regional director of USO Europe. “We are a vehicle to let the servicemember know that we thank you and appreciate you.”

She said the packages are intended to “put a smile on their faces and help them not to feel forgotten.”

¶ The American Red Cross, at www.redcross.org, provides emergency communication services for family members who need to reach a servicemember. The involvement of the Red Cross helps commanders verify the need for emergency leave.

It also accepts donations of blood and tissue, and works with military relief societies to provide emergency financial aid to military members.

¶ Each service also has service-specific relief agencies. Information for the Army is at www.aerhq.org; for the Air Force at www.afas.org; for Navy and Marines at www.nmcrs.org; and Coast Guard at www.cgmahq.org. These service-specific relief organizations provide food, educational funding, counseling and emergency loans and grants to military and family members.

Any e-mails seeking money for the troops or the war effort, should be checked for legitimacy with the Better Business Bureau, www.bbb.org or with the Department of Defense, www.dod.mil, according to USO’s Camillo.

She also advised against “donating blindly to e-mails” and recommended giving only to “highly recognized, bonafide organizations.”

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