Presidential Meeting Inspires Groups

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2007 - Leaders of 10 America Supports You homefront support groups from around the country, and a National Guard family program, accepted President Bush's invitation to meet with him at the White House yesterday.

America Supports You is a Defense Department program highlighting the ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation's servicemembers.

"Whether it be helping the chaplains help kids, or whether it be ... helping a family of the injured, whether it be working at Walter Reed or supporting troops getting ready to go into combat, these good men and women really represent the very best of America," Bush said after yesterday's meeting.

As their Oval Office meeting ended, the leaders were "on a cloud," said Karen Grimord, founder of the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project.

"We all work together, but it just united us even more," she said, adding that it is very important for the country to continue supporting the troops. "Calvin Coolidge said, 'A nation which forgets its defenders will be forgotten.' It's so true, and (Bush) just reiterated it in there."

For Grimord, her work supporting servicemembers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany with packages of comfort and relief items is a personal mission. Six members of her family have served in the Middle East.

"My Blue Star (lapel pin) hasn't come off since the war started," she said. "So for me, it's personal."

A few minutes later, Grimord received news that almost eclipsed the excitement of the day. A close relative returned from serving in the Middle East while she was meeting with Bush. "He made it back," she said as she fought back tears of relief.

For others, the joy came from simply getting the president's undivided attention and the chance to share thoughts and concerns with him.

Raymond Clifford is the executive director of Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, which helps severely wounded servicemembers, and his thoughts included broadening the scope of America Supports You. The Defense Department program acts as a connector campaign between its home front groups and those needing assistance.

"What we need to do is take it to the next level and start involving some of the government organizations like the (Veterans Affairs Department) and ... the different service organizations, so we can all work together and integrate our efforts and be quicker in response to the needs," he said. "That was the message I left with him, and he basically gave his assurance that he would give it some top consideration"

Daniel Hoebeke, the director of Adopt-a-Chaplain, said the meeting with the president was encouraging for all of the group leaders.

"All of the groups are united in our desire to take care of the troops. The passion that the president has for it came through extraordinarily clear as well," he said. "His thanks for us and our thanks for him is a very mutual one, because we're all striving for the same thing, which is to let the world know that this is a country which is made up of people that care for each other."

Hoebeke's group sends care packages to chaplains serving overseas. Having those items available provides servicemembers an excuse to drop by for a visit. "No 19- or 20-year-old soldier's going to say to his friends, 'I'm having some problems. I better go see the chaplain,'" he said.

As the group prepared to leave the White House grounds with renewed energy, the sentiment was unanimous: Their meeting with the president had been a "thrilling," "exciting," "fabulous" event.

Army Master Sgt. Barbara Claudel, of the Maine National Guard Family Assistance Center, said she thinks the president realizes it takes a whole nation to support all of our soldiers and families.

"It doesn't matter where they come from or what they do in the civilian world, or their personal interests. There's something they can give back to America," she said.

The groups represented at the White House included Adopt-a-Chaplain, Boatsie's Boxes, the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, Deployed Soldier's Family Foundation, Helping Our Heroes, Landstuhl Hospital Care Project, Operation Care and Comfort, Operation Second Chance, Operation Thank You, and SI Yellow Ribbon.

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