Gala Raises Funds to Keep Troops Connected

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2007 - Troops serving at remote sites overseas can look forward to better connection with their loved ones at home, thanks to the success of a fundraising gala here last night by the SemperComm Foundation.

The event, which included a dinner, concert by country music star Chely Wright and silent and live auctions, raised thousands of dollars for the nonprofit group that supplies morale-boosting communications and entertainment equipment, software and services.

The foundation's focus is on small, remote U.S. military bases overseas that lack the morale, welfare and recreational support larger, front-line bases enjoy, noted Executive Director Lara Coffee.

SemperComm adopts military cases in far-flung and highly sensitive regions of the world, thousands of miles from the comforts of home. Often troops serving in these outposts have no way to connect with their families.

Currently the group serves six bases, but Coffee said its goal is to ensure that all of the nearly 700 remote sites get access to communications services so they can stay connected with those they leave behind when they deploy.

Providing those services is an expensive endeavor. Serving SemperComm's newest adopted post, in Afghanistan, will require about $150,000 to install a satellite dish and connection services, and $30,000 a month to keep the service running, Coffee said.

Last night's gala helped the group work toward its goal. About 800 attendees contributed to the effort through ticket sales and silent and live auctions and private donations.

Linda LaRoche, co-chair of the event, thanked attendees for supporting the troops safeguarding their freedoms. She praised their selfless service, dedication, teamwork and humor, even when operating in the face of adversity. "They are beacons to us all," she said.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Virginia Mayo, a guest at the event, remembers how valuable services like those provided by SemperComm are to deployed troops. "It's such a morale boost to be able to communicate regularly with our families," she said. "It makes our deployments over there, especially now with extended deployments, so much easier for us."

Army Staff Sgt. Matt Olson, another guest, also recognized the importance of being able to check in with family members during a deployment. "It's a lifeline back to home. It keeps you sane," he said.

"Being able to talk to your family on the phone is such a plus," Olson continued. "It definitely makes a difference and makes you remember what you're there for."

Wright, who travels to many of the remote sites SemperComm serves, entertaining troops with the Stars for Stripes organization, said she's seen firsthand how vital a link back home is to deployed troops.

She recalled talking with a career soldier who years ago relied on "snail mail" to keep in touch with his wife when he was deployed. Letters frequently took two to three weeks to reach home, sometimes arriving out of sequence, so the soldier and his wife learned to number the envelopes, Wright said.

"Now, it's so much easier when they can simply log on and check in at home," she said. "It takes a lot of the worry away. ... It's one of those little extra incentives that help them grab the day."

Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter praised SemperComm's work and the services it's providing to deployed forces who might otherwise have to go without them.

"Communication is critical. It's one of the things that has a huge impact on morale," he said. "I can see the difference everywhere I travel, when I see (deployed troops displaying) e-mails and photos downloaded from computers. It's clear how important that is to them."

Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command, remembers the days when deployed troops didn't have access to the kind of services SemperComm provides.

"This kind of connectivity just wasn't available when I was making deployments," he said. "The communication our servicemembers have today makes a world of difference. They're able to keep abreast of what's going on back at home and to get e-mails and images from their families. It's a way for them to see some of what they would otherwise miss while they're away from home."

SemperComm is a partner in the Defense Department's America Supports You program. The program showcases the myriad efforts private citizens, schools, churches, corporations and other groups are doing nationwide to show support for the men and women in uniform.

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