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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Probably because the goal is simply to be together with someone or someones you care about and to appreciate the blessings that allow that togetherness. This year I'm with one of my sisters, and we're going to the home of one of her best friends for dinner. We'll be bringing the mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, apple pie, rolls, and raspberry & strawberry jam (all homemade thanks to lessons from our Mom!). Over coffee and homemade brown bread this morning, my sister and I read the President's Thanksgiving Proclamation for Thanksgiving Day 2007 (which you can read here).

The other thing that makes Thanksgiving really special is that it's non-denominational. I don't have to hesitate to wish anyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Whether it's the Pakistani-looking man at the Post Office yesterday who helped me ship a package of magazines, hot sauce, and candy to a medic and his guys in Diyala province, the ancient Hispanic handyman who was installing new light bulbs in the ‘EXIT’ sign on my eighth floor corridor, or the cheerful man ringing the bell at a Salvation Army kettle outside the Giant grocery store last night. They smile and return the greeting. It's a unifying wish, a wish to be grateful, a wish for togetherness and joy.

I am especially grateful this year for the progress in Iraq, not only as someone who would like those living in the "cradle of civilization" to have a better shot at a peaceful life, but because I've met so many people who have contributed to the changes in Iraq over the last 4 and half years: my sister's friends who served on Navy ships in the Gulf and Med during the original assaults on Saddam's regime in 2003 (Blythe, Rachel, Kristen, and Becky to whom I sent my first care packages), my adoptees thru Soldiers' Angels (Marines Frank and Ryan, National Guardsmen Ben and Anna, and Army dudes David and Taylor), and my friends and colleagues I've met in DC, military and civilian. And this Thanksgiving, rather then praying for a change for the better, we can express boundless gratitude for the remarkable changes on the streets of Iraq. Michael Yon shared a photo in a recent dispatch that captured this change perfectly for me. He has many photos, but the one that struck deep for me is one with this caption:

Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St. John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.” [Michael Yon]

If I am able to post the photo here I will, but go have a look here at the whole dispatch.

I'm not Muslim or Catholic (though I am Christian), but you don't have to know much history to appreciate the gesture that these Muslims made by attending that Catholic service and asking for that gesture to be photographed and shared with the world.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is amazingly wonderful.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

P.S. If you'd like to send a Happy Thanksgiving wish to our troops, check out this program from AmericaSupportYou.org (or see banner at top of page).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

With Respect and Gratitude - a belated Veterans' Day ramble

Well, I missed the boat on blogging something on Veterans' Day. I'm somewhat annoyed with myself about that, but work has been incredibly busy and life happens.

Still, Sunday was roughly the third anniversary of my joining Soldiers' Angels. It seems longer ago, but it was just before Veterans' Day 2004 when Hugh Hewitt directed his blog readers to this great organization as a way to show support and express thanks to our veterans.

Why do I think it's so great? I think it's because Soldiers' Angels is one of those organizations that allows you to contribute with a personal touch. I can safely say that while my care packages occasionally have been similar, they are always tailored to whoever is on the receiving end... and are regularly impacted by what I happen to see as I walked through a card shop or down the grocery store aisle. They also contain just a little bit of me.

That last part is important to me because I want our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to know that I - Jane Citizen - appreciate their service. Soldiers' Angels allows me to make clear that that message of thanks comes straight from me to them. To me it's the difference between a casual wave and a gentle squeeze on the arm. The former seems trite, the latter is motivated by heartfelt respect and a wish and a prayer for their safe return.

Anyway, I can't remember exactly what prompted my search for a new way to say "thank you", but I do remember that it was a fairly strong compulsion. I needed to say thanks, and I needed to do more than make a monetary donation.

I knew I'd found something special when I received an email from a young Marine Lance Corporal, my first adoptee. He wrote an email to say thanks for whatever I'd crammed in that first box -- snacks, I think, and a Thanksgiving card. I still have that email. Absolutely tickled to have heard back from him (Angels know that they may never hear from an adoptee for a variety of reasons, including that our adoptees are, well, fighting a WAR...), I responded with questions about what he'd like to receive, and got a big "NO MORE!" on toilet paper and a "yes please" for chocolate chip cookies. Turned out that the choc chip cookies got in the mail just before his unit went on “mail stop” for a return to the US in early February 2005. Cookies were received in good time and summarily demolished by he and his buddies. After getting over my pout at being unable to send any further packages, I continued to send an occasional email message (and requested a new adoptee!). I went on a business trip to NYC in mid December and on a whim took several picture-phone photos of NYC at Christmas. I wrote an email to my LCpl and attached the photos. I got a reply rather quickly as unbeknown to me, my LCpl had always wanted to visit NYC at the holiday time. The photos, despite their low resolution, provided a snapshot of a special place and a little bit of home at a special time of year.

In return, and unprompted, I received a fantastic photo of a pair of combat boots catching the rays of an Iraqi sunset, a snapshot of a Christmas tree that had been set up in his barracks, a photo of he and his buddy, and a photo of my LCpl and his beautiful wife.

Why highlight that reply? Because I think it demonstrates how “adopting” a soldier, sailor, airman or marine during their deployment can be a special way to show support. It might seem inadequate except that there are 10s of thousands of individuals making contact in exactly the same way. The effect is a very personal “thank you” going out to a large number of our newest veterans. They deserve nothing less.

If that wasn’t enough, I realized this year that this highly visible support to current active duty service members is prompting older veterans, whether it be from Vietnam, Korea, WWII or any of the actions in between, to talk about their experiences. Which is, in turn, letting me know about veterans among us who I had had no idea had served. Because they didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. Until now.

So thanks to Patti Patton-Bader for creating a way for us to show our support.

But most importantly, thanks to you, our veterans, for answering the call, for serving regardless of the sacrifices required, for standing up for the liberties we hold so dear.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Could you?

Yes, you could. Diane did.

When Angel Diane in Georgia sent out an email early this year to kick-off a Holiday support project for 20,000 deployed troops, my first reaction was, “Cool!” This was quickly followed by “OMG!”

You see, just a couple months before receiving Diane’s email, I’d successfully corralled a group of friends and mutual acquaintances to help send a last minute holiday delivery to a navy ship that had deployed to the Pacific shortly before Thanksgiving. I’ll share more on that in another post… I mention my 2006 holiday project for the ship because it made me well aware of how much was involved in sending goody bags to 260 sailors. Doing the same for 20,000 troops would be what geeks like me call an increase of two orders of magnitude. In other words, Diane was planning to collect and bundle up not just 10 times as many goodies as I had, but another TEN TIMES that.

Diane never seemed to get overwhelmed by it all and corralled so much awesome support and so many donations. Remember the socks? Go back and look at the whole list. And many thanks to those who read my posts about her efforts sent notes and cards to be included!

After 8 months of collecting, counting, organizing, and planning, Diane and crew packed up the 20,000 goody bags. Yep, all 20,000 – no shortfall here! They had some extra-industrious volunteers as well as cheerleading from a well-known bovine.

150 volunteers got the job done in 9 hours. I’m sorry that I was too far away to help -- I know that they had to be tired by the end, but I bet they had FUN.

It’s efforts like these that make being a part of Soldiers’ Angels so special. You can be a part of something BIG in a very tangible way. Alone, 20,000 would have been overwhelming. With friends, neighbors, and Angels worldwide (yep, some Aussies sent some cards in too!) you can collaborate to pull off a big one.

Still it takes people like Diane to step up and see it through,

So a big WAY COOL! to Diane, hubby Steve, Georgia Angels, and the residents of Douglasville.

Ya’ll done good.