Giving soldiers 'Gifts from the Homefront'

  By Thomas Wilson
 
  twilson@starhq.com

  With the holiday season here, many Americans are searching for ways to reach out to U.S. service members stationed overseas.
  Two new programs created under the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) provides families, friends or total strangers the opportunity to send gifts and phone cards to U.S. military personnel during the holiday season.
  The AAFES has created the "Gifts from the Homefront" and "Help Our Troops Call Home" programs that allow anyone to make a direct contribution towards the morale of deployed troops without compromising security or increasing the strain on the military mail system.
  AAFES Commander Maj. Gen. Kathryn Frost said the two programs are excellent ways for all to show they care.
  "I encourage every American who is concerned about the welfare of deployed troops to buy a gift certificate or a phone card" said Maj. Gen. Frost. "While these troops are doing superhuman tasks in countries half away around the world, we must remember that, after all, they too are human and the holidays can be a tough time to be away from friends and family.
  "Something as simple as a $20 gift certificate or $39 phone card can deliver the much-needed 'connection home' troops crave during the holiday season."
  Gifts from the Homefront and Help Our Troops Call Home phone cards can be addressed to "any service member" or individual service members.
  Gifts from the Homefront certificates are redeemable by authorized patrons of the AAFES, the Navy Exchange (NEX) and the Coast Guard Exchange. The certificates are redeemable at all locations around the world including deployed areas. Gifts from the Homefront certificates allow troops to purchase items of necessity and convenience at PX and BX facilities around the world including 51 exchanges in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. The gift certificates may also be personalized with a message to troops who find themselves so far from home.
  The gift certificates and/or phone cards may be sent to an individual service member (designated by the purchaser) or distributed to any service member through the USO, American Red Cross, Air Force Aid Society or Fisher House. The certificates can be purchased by any individual, business or civic organization.
  AAFES facilities in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom include 29 in Iraq, 10 in Kuwait, five in Afghanistan, one each in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and four in Qatar/UAE/Djibouti.
  Creation of the programs follows a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) directive announcement last month that said that mail items addressed to "any service member" would no longer be accepted due to security concerns and transportation constraints. DoD reports that some people have tried to avoid this prohibition by sending large numbers of packages to an individual service member's overseas address, which, according to the DoD, clog the mail system and cause unnecessary delays in delivery. The military APO cannot guarantee delivery by a specific date due to processing constraints.
  Help Our Troops Call Home phone cards are also available. The phone cards can be used at any of AAFES' 60 call centers throughout Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
  AAFES, NEX and Coast Guard Exchange are Defense Department agencies providing merchandise and services to active duty military, Guard/Reserve members, military retirees and family members regardless of where they are serving worldwide. Because the gift certificates can be used for merchandise already stocked at contingency locations, AAFES officials say Gifts from the Homefront are a safe alternative to traditional care packages that strain the military mail system and present security issues in hot zones.
  Service members can purchase what they need with the certificates because they can be applied to a wide range of products. Reports from Iraq and Afghanistan indicate that the certificates are being used for the latest CDs and DVDs, comfort items such as snacks and beverages and phone cards for those all-important calls home.
  Expressions of love and solidarity could not come at a better time for service men and women stationed in Iraq.
  A blast from an apparent suicide bomber at a military base outside Mosul on Tuesday killed 14 soldiers and wounded dozens of others in one of the bloodiest attacks against U.S. military since President Bush declared an end to hostilities in May 2003.
  A DoD casualty report released Wednesday confirmed 22 people were killed and 72 were wounded from an explosion at a dining facility at Forward Operating Base Marez in southwest Mosul. Defense officials said 14 of the 22 killed were U.S. military service members. Four U.S. civilians and four Iraqi security force troops also were killed. Of the 72 wounded, 51 are U.S. service members. The other 21 include American and foreign civilians and Iraqi security force troops.
   Twenty-nine of the 51 injured have been released from the hospital, defense officials reported on Wednesday. The names of the soldiers and civilians killed were being withheld pending family notification.
  Those wishing to send Gifts from the Homefront can log on to the AAFES Web site at www.aafes.com or call 1-877-770-4438. Help Our Troops Call Home phone cards are also available at www.aafes.com or by calling 1-800-527-2345.