As the holiday season approaches, thousands of Americans are asking what they can do to show their support for service members, especially those serving overseas in this time of war. Under the direction of the Department of Defense (DOD), the Illinois National Guard cannot send packages to members overseas.
To bolster force protection, the general public is urged not to send unsolicited mail, care packages or donations to deployed service members unless you are a family member, loved one or personal friend.
In October 2001, the DOD suspended the Operation Dear Abby and Any Service member mail programs due to force protection concerns. Although these programs provide an excellent means of support to friends and loved ones stationed overseas, they also provide an avenue to introduce hazardous substances or materials into the mail system from unknown sources. Unsolicited mail, packages and donations from organizations and individuals also compete for limited airlift space used to transport supplies, war-fighting material and mail from family and loved ones.
Recently, DOD has become aware of organizations and individuals who continue to support some form of the Any Service member program by using the names and addresses of individual service members and unit addresses. These programs are usually supported by well-intentioned, thoughtful and patriotic groups who are simply unaware of the new risks facing deployed military forces. Some individuals and groups publicize the names and addresses of service members, ships or units on Web sites, with good intentions. However, the result is a potential danger to the troops they wish to support.
DOD cannot support creative and well-intentioned efforts that defeat force protection measures, but can instead recommend alternatives to mail and donation programs. While it would be inappropriate for the DOD to endorse any group or organization specifically, service members do value and appreciate expressions of support that follow:
• The Gift of Groceries program at http://www.commissaries.com/certificheck/index.htm helps meet the family needs of our Guard and Reserve troops fighting the war on terrorism.
• Donate a calling card to help keep service members in touch with their families at Operation Uplink at http://www.operationuplink.org.
• Send a greeting via e-mail through Operation Dear Abby at http://anyservicemember.navy.mil or www.OperationDearAbby.net.
• Sign a virtual thank you card at the Defend America Web site at http://www.defendamerica.mil/nmam.html.
• Make a donation to one of the military relief societies: Army Emergency Relief at www.aerhg.org/; Navy/Marine Relief Society at http://www.nmcrs.org/; Air Force Aid Society at http://www.afas.org/; or Coast Guard Mutual Assistance at http://www.cgmahg.org/.
• Donate to Operation USO Care Package at http://www.usometrodc.org/care.html.
• Support the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services at http://www.redcross.org/services/afes.
• Volunteer at a VA Hospital to honor veterans who bore the lamp of freedom in past conflicts.
• Reach out to military families in your community, especially those with a loved one overseas.
Please do not flood the military mail system with letters, cards, and gifts. Due to security concerns and transportation constraints, DOD cannot accept items to be mailed to Any Service Member. Some people have tried to avoid this prohibition by sending large numbers of packages to an individual service members address. Although well-intentioned, this clogs the mail and causes unnecessary delays. The support and generosity of the American people has touched the lives of many service members, more than 300,000 of whom are deployed overseas.
Illinois National Guard has mobilized approximately 2,300 Army and Air Guard personnel in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and greatly appreciates all the support the people of Illinois have expressed to our soldiers and airmen over the last couple of years. The Illinois Army National Guard has approximately 10,200 members, and the Illinois Air National Guard has approximately 3,200 members. It is the ninth largest state National Guard in the nation.