Teens' Program Keeps Troops Connected

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2007 - Two Massachusetts teens are working to turn Americans' unwanted cell phones into more than 12 million minutes of prepaid talk time for the nation's troops.

"Cell Phones for Soldiers is the original (cell phone) recycling program created to benefit the troops and provide free prepaid calling cards and communication assistance to military members and their families," said Brittany Bergquist, one of the group's founders.

Brittany, 16, and her brother, Robbie, 15, began this endeavor in April 2004 with $21 of their own savings. Since then, they've provided more than 250,000 prepaid calling cards, equivalent to 2.5 million minutes of talk time, mainly with the cash they receive by recycling unwanted cell phones.

"Ultimately, we would like to provide free satellite phones for all military personnel serving throughout the world so that they don't have to rely on getting to a landline to call home," Brittany said.

The duo has discovered their goal will be costly. They're hoping to raise more than $9 million in the next five years to fund this and other new programs. One such program would provide video phones so deployed servicemembers and their families can see each other on a more regular basis.

Since the teens have been collecting phones for recycling, Liberty Tax has come on board, offering its nationwide locations as phone drop-off sites. The tax preparer's locations are just some of the more than 5,000 sites where donors can drop off unwanted phones. Communications giant AT&T will begin collecting phones at all of its company-owned wireless stores in the United States on July 4.

In their effort to support the troops, the Bergquists discovered their program benefits the world as a whole, Brittany said.

"The great thing about Cell Phones for Soldiers has been a boost to the morale of the troops, and it has also kept toxic chemicals out of our landfills throughout the country," she said. "It's an easy way for people to do a great thing for our military while protecting our environment."

Cell Phone for Soldiers is a member of America Supports You, and has realized many benefits from its membership in the Defense Department program. America Supports You connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

"America Supports You has helped to spread the word about Cell Phone for Soldiers through (its) newsletter and articles on (its) Web site," Brittany said, adding America Supports You also has helped her and her brother make important military connections.

"When we needed a contact in the Coast Guard, (America Supports You) was able to put us in touch with top level officials who could help us distribute our phone cards," she said.

The Bergquists know their group has shown that no matter how people feel about the war, "We all care about our troops and the sacrifices that they're making."

"We will continue Cell Phone for Soldiers as long as there are troops deployed so that they can communicate with their loved ones for free," Brittany said.

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