Group is Keystone of Support for Troops

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2007 - A group founded in 2002 as a way for Pennsylvania servicemembers to stay connected with family and friends has morphed into a group providing a morale boost to deployed troops all over the world.

Keystone Soldiers is an all-volunteer group that works to support deployed troops all over the world and the families they leave behind, founder S. Kyle Lord said.

"We do this through care packages, letters, cards and phone cards for the soldiers," she said. "We supply understanding, support and direction to the families who are struggling financially and emotionally, or need help finding program to (address) their specific issues."

Lord began the Keystone Soldiers Web site when her youngest son was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Originally, the site was designed for members of her son's unit to share information and photos.

The start of Operation Iraqi Freedom brought hundreds of requests for help and support for the troops, Lord said on the group's Web site. Even though her son came home safely, she said, she knew the need for support would not end soon, and she continued to send care packages.

The effort moved into donated warehouse space about a year ago, because it outgrew Lord's home, she said. "The space has allowed us to become much more efficient in our efforts, and we can usually pack 50 to 200 boxes on any given Saturday," she explained.

While the group always ships packages at least once a week, it sometimes exceeds that, Lord said. "Our (focus) is to make sure as many of our troops get care packages and mail as possible," Lord said.

Keystone Soldiers is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

America Supports You has been a great networking tool for the group, Lord said. Getting to know the people behind other troop-support groups and how they work has made it easier for Keystone Soldiers to focus on its mission, she noted.

"Some do the same thing we do, but others we network with are groups that handle issues we don't normally deal with -- injured troops, adaptive housing, military children's issues," she said. "It helps us all work together in the best interest of the military members and families."

Keystone Soldiers had a prime opportunity to network with other America Supports You groups when it was invited to participate in 2006 Memorial Day events in the nation's capital. Group members participated in the day's events and were able to talk to other America Supports You home-front groups and servicemembers.

"The following week, we had a record number of new troops signed up requesting care packages," Lord said. "It appears that even though those at the picnic were coming home, a lot of them knew lots of (servicemembers) still serving overseas."

The group, which also supports Iraqi and Afghan children, has been recognized for its work on several occasions. Recently, Lord and Keystone Soldiers were recognized as the "Jackson Hewitt/National Guard Family Hero of the Year" after being nominated by a soldier who had benefited from the group's generosity.

As part of that recognition, Lord's name appeared on the National Guard-sponsored car during NASCAR's Auto Club 500 race in Fontana, Calif.

"While rewards like this are certainly not why we do what we do, it was nice to be recognized for our support," Lord said. "It means we have accomplished our mission for at least one soldier and hopefully many, many more."

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