CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Organizations and well-meaning individuals throughout the United States have backed-up the mail system with overwhelming contributions of donated goods, care packages, cards and letters for service members supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The unsolicited mail and donations, however, compete for limited airlift space on flights with needed battlefield supplies, war-fighting materials and mail from family members, according to Department of Defense News Release 139-03, dated March 22. The department is trying to alleviate the problem by asking the general public not to send unsolicited mail or packages to deployed service members and encouraging people to use other methods to show their support.
Examples of the difficulty facing the mail system include the Camp Lejeune Red Cross chapter and the local United Service Organizations.
The Red Cross has an entire warehouse full of care packages waiting to be shipped overseas.
"We've had overwhelming public support," said Joe Norton, senior station manager, Red Cross. "Donations are coming from everyday people who just have big hearts (including school children)."
Likewise, the USO has received so many items intended for service members, it is asking for monetary donations to pay the shipping costs to send the packages overseas, according to Will Krauss, manager, Jacksonville USO.
"People have been real generous," said Krauss. "We've gotten things like razors, magazines and religious stuff to send overseas."
At the same time, there is a huge need for essential supplies, such as ammunition and food, that need to be sent overseas first, according to Capt. James A. Jones, traffic management officer, II Marine Expeditionary Force. He said once those supplies are shipped out, then organizations can begin sending out the donations.
Service members who have already received donations and unsolicited mail greatly appreciate the support.
"All the personnel who have received donations have expressed their deepest thanks to the community," said Judith R. Laughlin, Camp Lejeune Red Cross.
The DoD release explains that organizations' and individuals' efforts provide an excellent means of support for those overseas, but it is urging the general public to refrain from sending these items unless they are family members, loved ones or personal friends.
The department also encourages people to use alternative methods to support service members deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the release.
Those interested in sending messages of support to overseas service members can refer to the following Web sites to send electronic greetings, virtual Thank You cards and calling cards:
Additionally, people can show their support by donating their time and skills in the community. The defense department suggests volunteering time at veterans' hospitals and nursing homes. It has also launched On The Home Front, a resource designed to help people who are interested in supporting members overseas and their families.
The department created the resource, based on community volunteers, in part with USA Freedom Corps, a governmental volunteer organization. People interested in supporting this organization can call 1-877-USA-CORP or visit the Web site at www.usafreedomcorps.gov.
Organizations such as the American Legion, the Boys and Girls Club of America, the 4-H Club and a number of others are also working in conjunction with On the Home Front to provide volunteers ways to help with military families' everyday needs.
"There is nothing better for the morale of our troops than to know that the people back home are taking care of their loved ones and supporting the war effort," said Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David S. Chu.