America Supports You: International Bond Makes e-Valentine for Troops

 By Paul X. Rutz
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2006  - A British organization has reached across the ocean to join an American group in the common purpose of supporting the troops, creating a Web site that acts as a giant Valentine's Day card.

"We felt strongly that the Library of Life and our organization did share a common bond in wanting to get messages that were supportive and appreciative to our troops," said Ana-Marie Smith, president of Soldiers' Angels. "And they've been wonderful."

"Library of Life," an online message center, and "Soldiers' Angels," a group sending support to deployed troops, have created a site called "Operation Love Our Troops," which has so far collected over 14,400 messages.

Volunteers from both nonprofits gave interviews in front of the Times Square Armed Forces Recruiting Station to New York TV affiliates, radio stations and newspapers yesterday. They stayed through much of the day, offering passers-by the chance to write messages to the troops, Smith said.

"There were four laptop computers so that a person could just walk right up and send a message right there to the troops," she said. Two large canopies in front of the recruiting station had framed posters, signs. Volunteers wore red caps and logos advertising Soldiers' Angels and the Library of Life.

Soldiers' Angels has sent care packages, calling cards and letters to deployed troops since 2003, Smith said. An Internet community with an estimated 60,000 members, it works closely with America Supports You, a Defense Department program facilitating grassroots support for the troops.

"My main reason for wanting to get involved with this is we see lots of involvement from companies and organizations and churches around Christmas," she said. "Immediately after the holiday ends, we don't hear anything. It's a real quiet time as far as getting volunteers, and also donations."

When Library of Life approached her with the concept of a digital valentine, Smith said she loved the idea.

Henry Chamberlain, chief executive officer of Library of Life, said his organization began a year and a half ago in Great Britain. It provides a forum throughout the world where people can celebrate their lives together by sending messages and recordings.

The idea of working with another group to support deployed troops came out of that larger goal, and the partnership worked surprisingly well, especially since Library of Life had never worked on a military support project before.

"We thought it would only be military families who were sending messages, but I think the majority are actually just from the public," Chamberlain said. "We were overwhelmed by the response."

Chamberlain, a native of the United Kingdom, said the vast majority of response was American, mainly because it was promoted here, though several Canadians have left messages on the site, which Chamberlain sees as a great thing.

"It's not just for American troops, it's for all troops who are deployed at the moment," he said.

Chamberlain said working with Soldiers' Angels increased his respect for the job that group does supporting servicemembers.

When he arrived at the Times Square recruiting station to set up the event, he was impressed by the response he got when he mentioned Soldiers' Angels. "The guys in the recruiting station had all heard about them, and they said, 'Yeah, I've received a package before,' so I think they do a great job, and they're well known," he said.

Operation Love Our Troops will remain live on the Web as part of the larger Library of Life archive, Chamberlain said. The messages will remain, free to view and free to post, in perpetuity.

Chamberlain said he hopes this is only a first step in a larger effort to provide this kind of forum for supporters to send messages to deployed servicemembers.

"I think it's been proven that it's a good idea," he said. "We're going to continue helping people do that for free."