Military Update: United behind troops, if not the war, at ASY
July 21, 2007
“Hello. I am on my second tour to Iraq like most other soldiers [which] doesn’t mean it’s any easier to be here. However, seeing all the support we have, despite what is on the television … really helps us to keep our heads held high while we fight in a war that is not very popular back home. Thanks …”
The note, written by Army National Guard Sgt. Terrill Lantz with the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade in Balad, Iraq, is one of 2,500 posted by deployed servicemembers on a Department of Defense Web site called “America Supports You.”
Lantz and colleagues are responding to nearly 200,000 messages of gratitude also posted on www.americasupportsyou.mil by Americans across the nation. All of them express appreciation for servicemembers even if some admirers can’t resist an elbow shot of opposition toward the Iraq war.
America Supports You (ASY) is more than an online bulletin board, however. It’s a worldwide platform for individuals, nonprofit groups and businesses to support U.S. military personnel and their families in a variety of ways, from arranging care packages for deployed members, to building or upgrading homes for severely wounded veterans. It’s an Internet resource that was not available, or even imagined, by past generations of warriors.
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications, said servicemembers and their families who visit the site come away more confident that the nation understands what they sacrifice, and the ways many want to help.
Barber came up with the idea for ASY in the fall of 2004 after hearing returning troops ask if they were losing the nation’s support. Barber said the questions reflect an information gap. From her role in community outreach, she knew about support-the-troop activities of hundreds of community groups and thousands of citizens. The troops did not.
So ASY was to be a platform to show the military how much the nation cared. But it quickly also became a huge information portal for persons and groups wanting to express support or learn how they, their church or their classroom can reach out to deployed members and waiting families.
Visitors find feature stories on recent initiatives. A map lets visitors click on their state to see local support groups to partner with. Corporate supporters explain what they are doing. Service families can find offers of donated computers, frequent flyer miles, gift certificates, phone cards and more. They can request packages, cards or letters for deployed loved ones.
Barber cautioned that the first online stop for military members or dependents who need help with the strains of deployment should be Military One Source at www.militaryonesource.mil, which also has a 24-hour, referral service number: 800-342-9647. But to pulse how the nation feels about them, the depth of support, check out ASY, she said.
“Of the deluge of e-mails and calls we get every day, no question a majority are from American people saying ‘What can we do to support the troops,’” Barber said.
Posted comments are screened to ensure they reflect the site’s purpose — troop support — and to comply with DOD regulations against political commentary, vulgarity or slurs toward leadership, Barber said.
But comments backing the troops aren’t being censored for opposing the war. Even some Homefront Groups are “pretty vocal” on that, she said.
ASY lists 35 corporate supporters. If that number seems small, Barber reminds us that DOD can’t solicit for troop support. Companies have to volunteer.
Reading some of the comments posted at ASY might encourage them.
“Hey Everybody, I am a combat medic serving you in Ramadi, Iraq. When times get hard and we start to lose sight of why we are here, I stop and think. I think about the people back home, people like you who support us and pray for us. It makes me realize how important our job is to protect the most important thing in the world; our sons and daughters.” — Pvt. David Abramson, U.S. Army
ASY falls under the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, the office that also has oversight of Stars and Stripes. Tom Philpott is an independent writer on defense matters, and is not an employee of this newspaper. Stars and Stripes subscribes to his syndicated column.