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Friday, January 30, 2009

Best.Phone Call. Ever. -- And a Call for Action

A week ago, at lunchtime, my phone rang. It was my personal cell phone, and I was at work. Didn't recognize the area code, so I didn't answer. I did, however look up the area code.

'Waco, Texas?' I thought. 'Who the hell do I know in Waco, Texas?'

I travel for work, but I haven't been in Texas in a while (and I've never been to Waco), so I didn't think that was it.

Only one other option I could think of - a Soldier.

It rang again. Same number. Though I had to leave in a few moments for a business meeting, I picked it up.

The caller had a mischievous tone in his voice as he asked me how I was doing, and whether I was in CT or travelling that day. 'OK, I'll play,' I thought. There were only a couple of people this could be. Not too many people had this number.

He asked me about my dogs, my work, my family.

And then he asked about the squirrels - an inside joke that only one person outside of my house knew about.

It was my first Soldiers' Angels adoptee - the one who calls me Big Sis, and who I call alternately SuperSarge, Li'l Bro, or my favorite Cav. Scout.

I'd never talked to him in person before. And unbelievably, after a minute, I had to say,

"You're not going to believe this, but I have to go. Can I call you back?"

When I did, it turned into a two-hour conversation. The last time I'd heard from him, he was feeling pretty low. Medevac'd out of Iraq his last tour, he'd been going through a pretty tough time, with treatments, evaluations, and the fact that his future military career was in question due to his medical issues.

He'd told me then that at his lowest, he'd re-read a book I sent him - a book full of thank yous and other messages. He said the book kept him focused on the fact that a lot of people were pulling for him, and he couldn't let them down.

This day, he sounded good - cheery, a bit of a smart@$$ - exactly the way I figured he'd sound based on letters, emails, and instant message conversations.

At one point, he expressed amazement at the fact that I'd known him for four years now. He said I was one of very few people who had seen him at his best and his worst. I told him what I've told him a number of times before - that I would be there anytime he needed me.

He told me that thanks to some great people, he was making progress - getting treatment that was working. He said that the place he was at was awesome, and not enough people knew about them.

He also mentioned that he was working to arrange a ski trip for him and some buddies - they had a ski place that was donating equipment and tickets, but they still didn't have ski jackets, pants, etc. In fact, he wasn't even sure what the heck they needed - "I'm from Louisiana!"

He wondered if I knew of any place that might be willing to donate ski jackets, pants, etc.

I didn't, but I did know where to get help. I immediately (with him on the phone) emailed Patti about the trip, what they needed, etc.

Within a few days, they were all set and ready to purchase jackets, pants, etc. - all the cold weather clothing they needed.

When the folks at the clinic asked my Li'l Bro how the heck he'd pulled that off, he reported that he'd said:

"You know how I say I'm the Hand of God on the battlefield? Well, God never goes anywhere without his Angels."

HOOAH to that.

Patti didn't hesitate when I asked. Not one second. Her response was "we'd be honored to help."

And that's the response I - and so many others - always get when Soldiers' Angels is asked for help. SA never looks for what can't be done, but always for what CAN be done. When hurricanes damage barracks, when fires damage FOBs, when it's hot as heck in Iraq, when wounded heroes need ski gear - it's "What can we do to help?"

What mattered most in the world to me and to one wounded Hero on that Friday afternoon was getting some warm weather clothing so that six Heroes could go skiing. And again, it was "what can we do to help."

In the aftermath of a political campaign based on the catch phrase "Yes we can," SA shows what that really means, but goes further. SA isn't just "Yes we can" - it's "Yes we will."

Unfortunately, as things stand now, the reality of charities / non-profits is that donations are drying up. Whether the economic slowdown / recession / whatever you want to call it has actually hit or not, people perceive that things are rough, and they're tightening their belts. Unfortunately, one of the things they're giving up is donations to groups like Soldiers' Angels.

What that means is that more than 500 Heroes are currently waiting for Angels.

And SA is looking at escalating action in Afghanistan, and continuing efforts in Iraq, and saying, "Yes, we can - but we need your help to do it."

I've seen SA get family members tickets to see wounded heroes, provide voice-activated laptops to wounded heroes, ensure that wounded troops in Germany don't feel alone, and bring the holidays to tens of thousands of deployed Heroes.

It doesn't take much to be a part of it.

$5.00 sends a cool scarf to a Hero, to alleviate the misery of the desert heat.

$13.00 sends a 150-minute phone card.

$29.00 buys a kit to make a Blanket of Hope that you can send to comfort a wounded Hero.

$32.00 helps send a Welcome Home pack to a Hero.

$45.00 - $55.00 provides a welcome thank you to a veteran, or provides much-needed necessities to our Heroes, who often arrive at the hospital with nothing.

Or why not adopt a Hero? A letter a week / a package a month is all it takes. The USPS provides free mailing supplies to those who are sending to deployed troops, and they've got flat-rate priority mail shipping. My average package from the East Coast to an APO starting with 09 is about $6.00 - $8.00 to ship. Homemade treats, goofy gifts to bring a laugh, books, magazines - the contents don't have to be remarkable. The recipients, though, certainly are.

Without my involvement in SA, I would never have met my friend the SuperSarge, who I've talked to on the phone several times since, and who is one of the finest people it has ever been my privilege to know (seriously, Li'l Bro - you rock). Without SA, I would never have blogged. I would never have been to Walter Reed and had the chance to meet some incredible Heroes. Five minutes to sign up online changed my life, put me in the company of Heroes, and made me a better person. And my Li'l Bro would never have gotten a message book that provided a lift in one of his lowest moments. That's what SA does; what it means.

It means that Heroes half a world away, or right here at home, know we care.

How much is it worth to have the chance to thank a Hero? One less latte at Starbucks? A night at the movies? That jar of pennies?

It really doesn't take much - but it might mean everything.

Visit the Soldiers' Angels Website

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