In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no holidays. Every day is a duty day.
Military service always entails self-sacrifice, ranging from the loss of holidays to the rugged test of a year-long deployment away from family, to the greatest of all, one's life.
Self-sacrifice is precisely why America's uniformed military personnel, their families and veterans merit special respect.
I am frequently asked the question, "What can we as individual Americans do for our troops, particularly those serving overseas?"
I have two answers and a recommendation. The two answers are to pray for them and to say, "Thank you," when you encounter serving military personnel and veterans.
The recommendation is to "send a few dollars to Operation Call Home."
Operation Call Home is the brainchild of Ladd Pattillo, an Austin, Texas, businessmen, U.S. Army Reserve colonel and personal friend.
Pattillo got the idea in 2003. He agrees that it does answer the question, "What can I do for American servicemen and women?"
"I was occasionally asked that question at my Rotary Club," Pattillo told me. "I had talked to other soldiers and soldiers' spouses. They told me about phone cards. Soldiers want to call home and speak to their loved ones in the holiday season, like everyone else does. But the separation is felt so sharply during the holiday season. So I suggested we buy phone calling cards and give them to our troops."
Pattillo challenged his Rotary Club (The Rotary Club of Austin) to raise the money and organize the program. Alan Forster, another Austin businessman, had worked with AT&T's commercial network services.
"My role was to make sure that 100 percent of the money went to benefit the troops so that we could maximize our donations," Forster told me. Forster decided the easiest way to purchase the cards was through the Army and Air Force Exchange System (the PX system).
A fellow Rotarian, Mark Caesar, program director of KLBJ-AM in Austin, mentioned Operation Call Home to KLBJ's staff. "Station personnel thought it was a marvelous idea," Caesar recalled. "From the first year (2003) on, reaction has been fantastic. We've done four Operation Call Homes (using the station as the chief fund-raiser), and they've all been a tremendous success. It has been very gratifying to see the generosity of the people of Austin and Central Texas."
KLBJ has many listeners in the Killeen-Ft. Hood, Texas, area, and many of those listeners are U.S. military and military families. Ft. Hood is the headquarters of U.S. Army III Corps.
"Over four years, we raised over $200,000 and purchased cards for over 230,000 soldiers," Caesar said.
KLBJ and the Rotary Club buy the cards through AAFES, which turns them over to Ft. Hood to distribute to soldiers deployed overseas. This year, all of the cards are being given to Ft. Hood-based soldiers and III Corps troops serving in Iraq.
KLBJ has received a lot of feedback from American servicemen and women who have used Operation Call Home calling cards. "They are very, very grateful and appreciative," Caesar confirmed. "Many have told us that it means a great deal to them to know so many people back home are supporting them. This is proof of that public support of the troops."
Pattillo is very personally aware of the challenges our soldiers face in the war zone. Pattillo's son, Capt. David Pattillo, served two tours in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. Col. Pattillo was called back to active duty in 2005 and served as deputy commander of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps support brigade in Baghdad.
Pattillo made this point very clear: "The phone cards go to junior enlisted personnel. That's who needs the cards and who needs to benefit from a program like this."
An "Operation Call Home" can be organized by any local organization, Mark Caesar emphasized. "If a radio station in New York or Arizona is interested in learning how we do it, they can contact us at KLBJ." The point of contact is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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