Utah Expresses Gratitude to Troops

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2007 - Utah will observe "Thank a Soldier Day" tomorrow and March 19 to express gratitude to the servicemembers who protect America's freedoms.

Tomorrow's public events will feature military equipment displays, a climbing wall, camouflage face-painting for children, concessions, and music. Speakers will include local and state politicians and military personnel.

March 19 is the official, state-designated day for the observance, but organizers said most activities take place on the Saturday before the official day to facilitate high participation.

"We want to create a culture of gratitude for the men and women that serve our country," Jared Gomez, president of Thank a Soldier Day, said. "We want to help especially the youth understand why it is that we can live the lives we do."

It doesn't matter how anyone feels about the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, he added. "There are people that are sacrificing their lives every day for us, and we need to respect that," Gomez said.

To honor that sacrifice, the Thank a Soldier organization is sponsoring an injured servicemember who has recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. The organization will, through donations, provide assistance to that servicemember who may have needs the government is not able to meet, Gomez said.

"This is kind of our small way of showing our gratitude to them and that we appreciate their service," he said.

He also hopes that the public will take a moment to do just that on March 19, which is set aside to personally say "thank you" to a servicemember, he said.

"The idea is, whenever you walk past a soldier on the street ... you just stop and say, 'Thank you,'" Gomez said. "What I'd like to see happen is for all the news stations, all the radio stations on that day ... just stop and say, Today is Thank A Soldier Day.' We want to express our gratitude. Thank you for all you do.'"

Thank a Soldier Day was started by seniors at West Jordan High School three years ago. Rachelle Romero initiated the day for personal reasons, Gomez said.

"She has some family (members) that are members of the military, (and) she was really tired of all the negative news about the war and about soldiers," he said. "She didn't think it was right, so she wanted to do something."

That original "something" was creating a huge banner for her school to sign before it was sent to Iraq. That sparked interest in doing something more, and a small group of students worked with the high school's assistant principal to create a day of recognition for servicemembers, Gomez said.

This year, Thank a Solider Day's gratitude and goodwill are expanding to help America Supports You home-front member Operation Give, a care package group based out of Salt Lake City.

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

"They initially contacted me just to have me actually speak during (tomorrow's) program," Paul Holton, a chief warrant officer in the Utah Army National Guard, said. "They wanted to get more of an ongoing project or organization involved in the Thank a Soldier Day organization, so we came up with 'Thank a Soldier for the Week.'"

The groups have placed 15 drop boxes around the West Jordan area so residents who'd like to donate convenience items, food and entertainment items can do so. Those wishing to donate don't have to be local residents, though. Donations are accepted from across the country.

"The can either look at the list and send us things that are on the list, or we would prefer that they donate money ... to purchase things that are needed," Holton said, explaining that cash donations help keep the cost of shipping down. "But they can go on our Web site ... and donate."

Money donated through Operation Give's Web site can be earmarked for any specific project the group runs, including Operation Support the Troops, which the Thank a Soldier for a Week collection drive is benefiting. The Web site also provides the mailing address to donate items.

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