Teachers Learn How Kids Can Support Troops

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

SAN DIEGO, June 26, 2007 - Educators attending the Military Impacted Schools Association's summer meeting here today got a warm thank you from the Defense Department and a lesson on how students can express support for servicemembers.

MISA is a national organization representing public school districts that serve high concentrations of military children.

"I do want to thank you, as an educator ... for what you do," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison and a former teacher.

"Many of you know that the morale of our troops is based on support that they feel from the home front. I bet you see that in their children in your schools," Barber said. "Their parents are doing something a little bit different. Those kids are watching the news too, and curious, 'Do (Americans) still support my Mom and Dad?'

Two and a half years ago, the Defense Department didn't have a good answer to that question being asked by both servicemembers and their families, Barber said.

"That wasn't acceptable, so we created the 'America Supports You' program to simply highlight what people across this wonderful country are doing to support our troops and their families back home," she said.

In creating the apolitical program, department officials looked to the Vietnam era, Barber said. It became evident that during that time, Americans weren't given the opportunity to debate policy and yet hold separate conversations regarding the people involved.

"Although a new program, (America Supports You) is our way of saying, 'Debate the policy ... but let's never debate - never debate - whether or not we support the people who serve our country,'" Barber said.

The Defense Department program connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

More than 275 nonprofit groups have become members of America Supports You since the program began in November 2004. That's in addition to the corporations that have stepped up to help spread the word that America supports its servicemembers.

"What a powerful message that is for our troops and their families who serve in 177 countries," Barber said.

But until three years ago, the country was still looking for a way to appropriately observe Sept. 11.

"The first year after 9/11, we had a moment of silence in our country, another year we rang bells, another year we lit candles," Barber said. "Our country wasn't sure what to do to commemorate that terrible day and honor our veterans and still move forward."

In 2005, America Supports You held its first Freedom Walk in the nation's capital. More than 15,000 people participated in the walk from the Pentagon to the National Mall. And with that, a new national tradition was born, Barber said.

With the help of the home-front groups and the corporations, as well as individuals across the country, the Freedom Walk has grown tremendously.

Last year, America Supports You also worked with Weekly Reader to invite the country's students to express their support of the troops. Schools across the country were represented in the more than 130 walks across the country.

"The Freedom Walks are continuing (this year), and we want to invite all of you and your systems to be a part of helping create a new national tradition," Barber told the educators. "What we've learned, especially from educators, is that the Freedom Walk served as a great way to teach the history lesson of what happened in our country on 9/11."

One educator shared that during his school's Freedom Walk last year, the students had symbolically walked to Iraq and back. This year, they'll be walking to Afghanistan and back, he said.

When the Sept. 11 anniversary has passed again this year, students can continue showing their support by sending e-mails to the troops through the America Supports You Web site. They also can find a group in their area that supports the troops through the Web site, Barber said.

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