Gift Cards Cheer Recovering Military Families

By Linda Hosek
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2007 - Kate Deyermond is going on a $15,000 holiday spending spree today -- but not for herself or with her own money.

The manager of the three Fisher House facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here will use donations from Wal-Mart to buy presents and necessities for military families who stay at Fisher House while their loved ones recover from combat injuries or illnesses.

"We'll make a list of the needs of the residents -- anything from diapers to linens," Deyermond said yesterday at the kick-off of Operation Deck the Walls, a new Wal-Mart program to bring holiday cheer to military families at 38 Fisher House facilities in the United States and Germany.

Wal-Mart will donate $350,000 through the holiday program, giving each house $5,000 for a spending spree. The total also includes $60,000 for decorations at all of the houses and $100,000 to build a new Fisher House at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Executives of the nation's largest retailer also hope Wal-Mart gift cards for holiday items and tree-trimming efforts will help with the healing. They'll be holding similar events at Fisher House quarters around the country for the next three weeks.

"It's more than the decorating," Kathy Cox, Wal-Mart Foundation manager, said as crews from Wal-Mart and Sam's Club hung red ornaments on a Christmas tree. "It's using our hands and our hearts. It's not just about the merchandise."

It's also about giving back to the nation's heroes, said Pat Curran, executive vice president of Wal-Mart Stores People Division. Decorating the homes is one way Wal-Mart can thank the troops.

"We're very proud to do that," said Curran, whose father was an Army intelligence officer for 22 years, giving her first-hand experience with sacrifice.

"I think it's awesome," Army Sgt. Marcus Kuboy, from the Minnesota National Guard, said. "Any kind of appreciation or support we get is great. I just eat it up."

He also reinforced the feeling that the spirit of the Wal-Mart program -- not just the purchases -- would make a difference. "The majority of recovery is mental attitude," he said. "This is helping."

"It's a great example of an organization based on people ? like the military is," said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander of North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed. "It's easy to write a check; they're out here doing."

But individuals also can have a powerful voice -- literally -- like country singer Tracy Byrd. He showed up to add to the holiday spirit with a few Christmas carols and hits of his own.

"I am a guy who goes around the country singing for a living," he said. "That's a great freedom to have, a great thing to be able to do what I love. For years and years, our military has defended that kind of freedom, and they go through these hardships, these injuries that we see today, this loss of limbs. It changes their whole life. And if we can be here to maybe just put a smile on their face for a little bit is great."

The Fisher House Foundation was established in 1990 by Zachary Fisher, a long-time military supporter. More than 110,000 families have stayed in a Fisher House over a period of 2.5 million days at no cost to the families.

Up to 70 military family members stay in the three D.C. Fisher houses, which have 27 rooms with up to 20 people on a waiting list, Deyermond said. Two of the houses are reserved for those with combat injuries, and the average stay is eight months to two years.

Both Wal-Mart and the Fisher House Foundation are supporters of America Supports You, a U.S. Department of Defense program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families at home and abroad.

"Wal-Mart is a true champion of our military," said Ken Fisher, Fisher House president and Zachary Fisher's grand-nephew.

Wal-Mart's efforts to bring holiday cheer to military families recovering from long-term injuries and illnesses actually aids their military mission, said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public liaison and internal communications and the creator of the America Supports You program.

"Their new mission right now is to get well," Barber said of wounded troops, adding that getting well takes both physical endurance and strong attitudes. "And those attitudes for our troops are really boosted through support that they see through outreach programs like this, which is constantly what we see though America Supports You."

Army Cpl. Adam Poppenhouse, who lost his leg Dec. 3, 2006, in Iraq from an improvised explosive device, has lived in a Fisher House for months. The soft-spoken soldier listened to the singing and shared his thoughts about the event. "It's a wonderful way to heal," he said. "It's very humbling. It means a lot to me and my family."

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