66 years later, Zane Thorpe will finally receive seven medals he earned in service to his country 

 

Waterloo, IA - Today, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) will travel to Dubuque to present seven military service medals - including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star - to Zane Thorpe, a World War II Army veteran who was awarded the medals but never received them after he was honorably discharged from the military in 1945.

In his discharge papers, the Army told Thorpe he was entitled to the medals, but because of a shortage, they were never given to him.  This November, Thorpe's family approached Braley's office for assistance in finally obtaining the medals, 66 years after they were granted.

Thorpe enlisted in the Army in April 1943.  After basic training, he was assigned to the 157th Combat Regiment, 45th Division, 3rd Battalion, L Company, which was deployed to Sicily and campaigned throughout Italy.  By 1944, Thorpe's unit had moved on to France and later Germany, where he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.  Thorpe was evacuated to a hospital in England, and was transferred to a hospital in Texas.  He was discharged in July 1945 after V-E Day.

The Medals Award Ceremony was held on Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 @ 11:00am at the Oak Park Place Senior Community, 1381 Oak Park Place in Dubuque, Iowa

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CHICAGO, IL (12/21/2011)(readMedia)-- On the morning of Dec. 3, the booming voices of drill sergeants were heard throughout the Illinois National Guard's Kedzie armory in Chicago.

Recruits stood at attention while cadre of Company B, Illinois National Guard Recruiting Retention Command (RRC) conducted a simulated day of Army basic training.

With their families in attendance, recruits took part in the Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP) workshops. The program is sponsored by the Family Support Brigade, a not-for-profit organization partnered with RSP to provide family support, and is designed to give both new recruits and their families an in depth look at the life of a Soldier in basic training.

"We are here to prepare the recruits physically, mentally and emotionally for the military," said 1st Sgt. Aaron Ferrer of Highland Park, the senior enlisted adviser for Company B.

The day consisted of four main events that included combatives, weapons familiarization, team building exercises and military operations in an urbanized terrain training.

These events instill discipline and confidence in the recruits. For example, combatives provides them a better working knowledge of self defense they can use in future operations, said Staff Sgt. Justin M. Gullion of Northbrook, the level-one combatives instructor for Company B.

Pvt. Katharine Linhart of Brookfield, with Company B, enlisted her junior year of high school. She recently completed Basic Combat Training and will attend Advance Individual Training to become a combat medic after she completes high school.

Linhart said the RSP training prepared her for basic training and helped her maintain that discipline.

"It's been very active and we do a lot of hands-on training," said Linhart.

The program exposes enlistees to what they may experience in basic training and gets them accustomed to the Army's core values, other Soldiers and noncommissioned officers.

"It definitely makes me feel like I chose to do the right thing with my life," said Linhart.

The program was designed not only to show recruits and their families the military lifestyle, but also as a tool to keep recruiting numbers high and attrition rate low.

By giving recruits a "sneak peak" at what to expect in basic training helps them make an educated decision on whether or not the military is the correct career path for them.

The state's program has shown increasingly effective results, said Ferrer. While the National Guard Bureau standard is 83 percent of Soldiers to ship to basic training, the Illinois National Guard has exceeded this.

"Our numbers in the state of Illinois for Fiscal Year 2011 recruit ship rate was 91 percent," said Ferrer. "This clearly shows that programs like RSP are working to make the process of recruitment and retention more efficient."

"Preparing and ensuring these recruits and their families a smooth transition into the military arena is our goal and we are here to do just that," said Ferrer.

Photo 1: Photo by Sgt. Charlie Helmholt, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment / Staff Sgt. Justin M. Gullion of Northbrook, the level-one combatives instructor for Company B, Illinois National Guard Recruiting and Retention Command, displays a dominant mounting technique to family members during a self defense workshop as a part of the recruit sustainment program Dec. 3 at the Illinois National Guard Kedzie armory Chicago.

Photo 2: Photo by Spc. Jason Dorsey, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Staff Sgt. Francisco Santiago of Chicago, of Company B, Illinois National Guard Recruit Retention Command, explains the fundamentals of weapons handling during a class on urban warfare training as part of a recruit sustainment program workshop Dec. 3 at the Illinois National Guard Kedzie armory in Chicago.

For high resolution photos, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at ngilstaffpao@ng.army.mil

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New Laws Improve Access to Jobs, Health Insurance

CHICAGO - December 19, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today signed legislation that will improve the quality of life for Illinois' Veterans. Senate Bill 1587, sponsored by Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago) and Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), and Senate Bill 40, sponsored by Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) and Rep. Lisa Dugan (D-Kankakee), make it easier for Veterans to gain access to employment and health care.

"The men and women who have courageously defended our democracy overseas should not return home only to fight for necessities like jobs and health insurance," said Governor Quinn. "We owe it to our Veterans to make their transition to civilian life as seamless as possible."

Senate Bill 1587 makes it easier for Veterans to become members of the Illinois State Police (ISP). Under the new law, education requirements will be waived for individuals who have been honorably discharged with a campaign medal after serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. On average, a servicemember serves three to four years before being discharged, and that experience makes Veterans particularly valuable assets to the ISP.

"Having been a Veteran who returned home and found limited job opportunities, I applaud the efforts of Governor Quinn and the state legislators to improve the quality of life for soldiers seeking to further their careers to serve and protect," said Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau. "This law will give Veterans every opportunity to apply and test within our department, and will significantly increase the pool of qualified, experienced candidates representing the Illinois State Police."

Governor Quinn also signed Senate Bill 40, which extends the Veterans' Care program. The program provides Veterans with comprehensive health care coverage for $40 or $70 per month (depending on income). The program had been set to expire on Jan. 1.

"Employment and the availability affordable of healthcare are among the most critical needs of the Illinois veteran community," said Erica Borggren, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. "These measures will have an immediate, direct impact for Illinois' past and present heroes in uniform."

The law also helps members of the Illinois National Guard receive compensation more quickly when responding to in-state natural disasters. Under the law, the Illinois National Guard State Active Duty Fund will be created to more efficiently reimburse Guard members called to active duty in the event of state disasters.

"Our Soldiers and Airmen always stand ready for any mission, whether here at home or overseas," said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, Illinois National Guard Adjutant General. "As responders, this bill will help the Illinois National Guard's immediate response to emergencies. It will allow us to move forward during the mission knowing our soldiers, airmen and suppliers will receive prompt payment during a crisis and won't have to worry about paying their families bills."

For more information about these and other programs for Veterans, visit www.operationhomefront.org or call the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs at (217) 782-6641 or (312) 814-2460.

 

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Saluting Service and Sacrifice

by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Iowans will welcome friends and family home for the holidays this month to celebrate the joys of the season together.  Kids home from college and relatives from far and near will gather under one roof to enjoy each other's company.

For U.S. military families, the return of 45,000 troops from Iraq arguably wins the best homecoming present of the season.  Nearly nine years after the war started in March 2003, American troops have fought to defend freedom and protect U.S. national security interests in and around Afghanistan and Iraq. The men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line in service to our country have earned a debt of gratitude from the American public.

The American public cannot afford to become complacent about the mission and contribution of the U.S. military.  The military serves in many cases as the world's first and last line of defense for freedom, liberty and democracy at home and abroad.  Ultimately, it is the courageous members of the U.S. Armed Forces who serve on the front lines to protect our American way of life here at home.

Iowa has a long-held tradition of honoring members of the Armed Forces and the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard and Reserves.  Local communities and veterans' service organizations for generations have organized celebrations for hometown heroes deploying to and returning from military service, as well as memorials for those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

In Washington, I work to square the needs of a strong U.S. military and the sacrifices of the taxpaying public.  Recently, I've worked to raise awareness and increase federal help for our members of the Armed Forces who suffer from service-related mental health conditions and injuries.  An increasing number of veterans return from the battlefield with invisible wounds.  In 2007, I worked with Iowa lawmakers to pass the "Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act" in honor of an Iowa veteran who took his own life after returning home from active duty.

Seeking to help military veterans re-enter the civilian workforce, I worked to help secure passage this year of a federal tax incentive that would make it easier for small businesses to hire qualified military veterans.  In recognition of their skills and service to our country, I've also called upon federal agencies to hire qualified military veterans.  As a result, the IRS has hired thousands of vets in the last four years.

During this season of joy and celebration, let's remember to salute the service and sacrifice made by America's veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces.  Thanks to their commitment to duty, honor and country, America continues to be the land of the free and home of the brave.

Monday, December 19, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, IL (12/16/2011)(readMedia)-- When Senior Airman Evan Stevens first heard the explosion, he thought it was incoming fire and a possible ambush, so he took cover.

Stevens, who has been a member of the 183rd Fighter Wing's Security Forces Squadron in Springfield for the past four years, was 100 meters outside the gate of Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan conducting a presence patrol early one May morning.

Staff Sgt. Russell Logan, of the 164th Airlift Wing's Security Forces Squadron in Memphis, Tenn., stepped on an anti-personnel mine causing the explosion. The field had been established as cleared.

"I didn't realize he was alive until I heard him scream," said Stevens.

Stevens was the team's lead combat life saver and with his alternate, Senior Airman Yanick Koenig, of the 143rd Airlift Wing's Security Forces Squadron in Quonset Point, R.I., together administered first aid to Logan.

"We saw that his left leg had been amputated by the land mine and immediately started going through the individual first aid kit for tourniquets."

They applied a tourniquet to each leg, said Stevens. Logan also had wounds to his stomach and other areas.

"I saw black dirt and a white light," said Logan. "I didn't know I was hurt, but only felt pressure."

Stevens and Koenig applied the necessary bandages and were ready to move Logan's stretcher when a second mine exploded. Staff Sgt. Ben Seekell, a dog handler from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, had stepped on another land mine and lost his foot due to the explosion.

"We were a little confused and slowly began to figure out that we were standing in a mine field," said Stevens.

With only one stretcher, a couple team members, including Staff Sgt. Christopher Mazrim of the 183rd Security Forces Squadron, moved Seekell as the team walked a straight line back out the way they had entered, said Stevens.

"In those situations, seconds count and if you practice with your medical supplies and know where everything is, the better off you will be," said Stevens. "That day we learned that placement and practice is beyond vital."

Logan was evacuated to Germany within a few days of the detonation and had nine surgeries. He was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Oct. 11 and is back to work at the 164th.

Stevens, of Rochester, returned from his deployment in early October with his 13-man security forces team and reunited with Logan at the Enlisted Leadership Symposium in Nashville Tenn., Nov. 1.

"I got to see him again in much better shape than the last time I saw him," said Stevens.

Logan said it was one of the worst situations, yet one of the best things that has happened to him.

"It showed me what life really means," said Logan, who has a 21-month-old daughter at home.

The two Airmen plan to stay in touch and remain tied through their experience overseas.

Welcome Home Heroes Offers Up to $10,000 Plus Federal Tax Credit to

Help Servicemembers and Veterans Purchase Their Own Home

CHICAGO - December 14, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today launched the Welcome Home Heroes program to promote homeownership for Illinois Veterans, active military personnel, reservists and Illinois National Guard members. The financing package is available statewide, and provides a forgivable grant up to $10,000 toward the purchase of a new home, as well as an additional mortgage tax credit up to $20,000 over the life of the loan. Welcome Home Heroes will make homeownership even more affordable for thousands of military families and create more than 400 jobs throughout Illinois.

"The Welcome Home Heroes program honors and celebrates those who safeguard our freedom by providing them with an affordable path to homeownership," Governor Quinn said. "Our servicemembers returning home from overseas deserve our help as they put down roots in their community and begin building a civilian life with their families."

 

Welcome Home Heroes is open to all qualified Illinois Veterans. Active military personnel, reservists and Illinois National Guard members must be first-time buyers. The Welcome Home Heroes homebuyer financing package includes a forgivable $10,000 grant for down-payment and closing cost assistance, an affordable interest rate (4 percent as of today) for a secure 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and a mortgage credit certificate worth up to approximately $20,000 for the life of the loan.

"Welcome Home Heroes furthers Governor Quinn's commitment to sustaining affordable homeownership opportunities available through the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA)," said IHDA Executive Director Mary Kenney. "IHDA has helped nearly 60,000 low- to moderate-income families buy a home, and now we can help even more families attain homeownership."

Welcome Home Heroes is funded through $5 million in Illinois Jobs Now! capital funds and $5 million from the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund. In addition to creating homeownership opportunities, the Welcome Home Heroes financing package will stimulate statewide economic activity. The $10 million investment will generate an estimated:

  • 405 full-time jobs
  • $16.7 million from real estate-related industries
  • More than $5.3 million in economic activity for the state
  • Additional $10.6 million in other statewide spending

"Many National Guard, Reserve and active-duty Soldiers come back from deployment and face hard times," said Maj. Gen. William L. Enyart, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "Programs such as this homeownership initiative will go a long way toward helping these men and women achieve the American dream. They fought for it and they deserve it."

"As Veterans transition to civilian life, the Welcome Home Heroes homebuyer package assists those who want to find a safe and affordable way to buy a home," said Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Borggren.

 

Welcome Home Heroes program builds on IHDA's existing affordable home loan program, SmartMove, also available through IHDA's lenders. Income thresholds and purchase price limits apply. Administered by the IHDA, the package applies to 1-2 unit residential properties that are located in the State of Illinois and are purchased as a primary residence.

Interested Veterans, servicemembers and their families can contact a lender in their area to apply. The Welcome Home Heroes application is free. A list of lenders is available at www.ihda.org/homeowner/heroes.htm.

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Four Central Illinois Businesspersons Recognized for Support to National Guard; Story by Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

SPRINGFIELD, IL (12/14/2011)(readMedia)-- Distinguished guests and prominent local leaders assembled at the Governor's Mansion in Springfield Dec. 13, the 375th birthday of the National Guard, to honor employers and their commitment to supporting the Guard and its missions.

"We are here to recognize some organizations that have been supportive of the National Guard; specifically units that are deploying to Afghanistan and we are going to give them the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Seven Seals Award," said Lt. Col. Tim W. Franklin of Springfield, with the Illinois Army National Guard and Program Coordinator for Illinois ESGR.

The Seven Seals Award represents the seven military reserve components: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard reserves, along with the Army and Air National Guard.

The four who were honored with the Seven Seals Award for their efforts were Karen Hewitt, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; Dr. Pinky Wassenberg, Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Illinois-Springfield; Todd Renfrow, retired General Manager, City Water, Light, and Power of Springfield; and Dan Jackson, Sangamon County Division Manager, Allied Waste Management.

"The individuals we honor tonight provided members of the Illinois Army National Guard an expanded knowledge of how our units of government accomplish their daily operations in the critical infrastructure sector," said Franklin. "Their expertise provided a collaborative environment between Soldiers and civilian subject matter experts in the fields of technology, engineering, and culture."

Each one of the Seven Seals Award Recipients went above and beyond their occupational responsibilities to make the preparation training beneficial for all involved. Although the Illinois Army National Guard representatives collected priceless experience and insights the four honored also found the collaborative process to be valuable.

"We prepared the Guard for what they could expect and how to capture and benefit from it," said Renfrow. "It was a very rewarding experience."

"I did it because it's the thing you should want to do for the country," said Renfrow. "We depend on the Guard and the Reserves to bolster our safety and I would like to help them accomplish their mission in any way I can."

Also in attendance was Sergio Pecori, President and CEO of Hanson Professional Services in Springfield. Hanson was recognized this year as one of only 15 companies nationwide to receive the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

Support from employers is crucial for the long-term success of each citizen-Soldier and the National Guard and Reserve. The four honored professionals said they understand their involvement is essential to the success of the mission and are setting a high example for other employers to follow.

The Illinois National Guard will continue its birthday celebrations Dec. 14 in downtown Springfield. As part of the Downtown Springfield Inc. Holiday Walk, the National Guard will feature many of its capabilities, with hands-on, interactive displays open to all ages. Featured equipment includes up-armored vehicles, a M777 howitzer and the Engagement Skills Training 2000, which virtually simulates weapon-training, a Korea War-era vehicle and a World War I cannon. The celebration takes place from 4 to 8:30 p.m.

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Dozens of national employers participating in Midwest virtual career fair tomorrow

 

Waterloo, IA - Today, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) urged Iowa veterans seeking employment to participate in a virtual online career fair for Midwest veterans organized by the US Department of Veterans Affairs tomorrow, Tuesday December 13, 2011, from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. Central Time.

"Our veterans have made incredible sacrifices for our nation and after returning from the battlefield they deserve good jobs," Braley said. "I am committed to use every opportunity possible to help these veterans. Iowa veterans should visit www.veteranscareerfair.com to register and take advantage of this great opportunity."

Veterans are encouraged to pre-register at http://www.veteranscareerfair.com for the online career fair.  During the career fair on Tuesday, veterans from across Iowa and the Midwest can log in and visit virtual employer booths, search for and apply to job openings, and chat with recruiters online.

Other states joining in the December 13th event are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  The Midwest virtual career fair is supported by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the Military Officers Association of America, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Disabled American Veterans, and other groups.

Braley is the highest ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.  In October, Braley held a field hearing in Waterloo that focused on veterans' economic opportunity and job creation, especially with regards to Iowa National Guard and Reserve members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (12/11/2011)(readMedia)-- Someone headed to war surrounded by foreign troops might be expected to be a little nervous, but Col. Michael Zerbonia of Chatham is calm and confident.

Perhaps that's because the Polish brigade that Zerbonia's 18-Soldier Bi-lateral Embedded Support Team (BEST) 10 will co-deploy with this summer are hardly foreign - they're longtime friends with the Illinois National Guard.

The Illinois National Guard has shared a State Partnership Program (SPP) with the Polish military since 1993. The Illinois National Guard started to co-deploy with a Polish brigade first to Iraq and then Afghanistan starting in 2003. This will be Zerbonia's second deployment with the Polish.

In addition to commanding the BEST 10 team, Zerbonia will act as the Deputy Brigade Commander of the 12th Polish Mechanized Brigade, working with approximately 2,800 Polish Soldiers. The 12th's mission in Afghanistan will be to maintain freedom of movement, policing the Ghanzi Province and handing over the responsibilities to Afghan forces.

The Illinois National Guard's SPP is among the oldest and largest of 61 total partnerships. The SPP was established to help former Eastern Bloc countries transition to democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union by linking the National Guard forces of several states with the militaries of these countries. The Illinois National Guard was partnered with Poland because of the many cultural and ethnic ties shared between Poland and Illinois. Poland is now among the United States' staunchest allies in Europe.

BEST 10 Soldiers will train at Camp Lincoln in Springfield before deploying to Poland for two months to train with Polish forces. Following that training, they will deploy with Polish Soldiers to Afghanistan.

"We've compiled a good group of Soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, providing a wide range of skills sets," Zerbonia said. "I've had extensive experience working with the Polish and Russian military and I feel comfortable with the mission."

But that doesn't mean this rotation will be the same as previous rotations, Zerbonia said.

"Our mission changes as the war changes," said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Sheahan of Moline, the Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge of the BEST 10 team. "We'll be focusing on the transition of handing back power to the Afghan Army and Police, "

The jobs BEST Soldiers perform range from logistics, intelligence, operations, to airspace management. All the while they work jointly with the Polish Army. The team also signs contracts and works with civilian contractors, as well as training the Afghan Army and Police to take more of a leading role in operations.

The most important role of the BEST Soldiers will provide is advising Polish Soldiers on Western military tactics, techniques and procedures.

"Over the past five years, the Polish Army has adopted a more Western mindset, delegating to their NCOs as opposed to officers handling all the affairs," said Sheahan. "The Polish Army is trying to model itself similar to the American military format. Before, the Polish Army wasn't utilizing its NCO core."

Zerbonia echoed this sentiment. "We rely heavily on our NCOs to execute," he said. "We've sent Soldiers from the Regional Training Institute before to show the Polish their usefulness. We'll be taking several E5 (sergeant) and E6 (staff sergeant) Soldiers on this deployment."

Though the team expects challenges, they say they are looking forward to this unique experience.

"I know it will be a challenging deployment, and everyone involved is excited," said Sheahan.

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Organization Celebrates Shipment of 750,000 Care Packages to Troops

 

Van Nuys, CA, December 6, 2011 -- Operation Gratitude, the non-profit, volunteer-based organization that sends care packages to troops deployed in harm's way, to their children left behind and to Wounded Warriors recuperating in transition units, will have cause for celebration as the 750,000th package rolls off the assembly line on Saturday, December 17, 2011.

Director of Operations, Rich Hernandez, expects the milestone 750,000th package to hit the assembly line around 11:15 a.m., to the cheers of up to 1,000 volunteers, Military members, legislators, and celebrities.

In addition to standard items and personal letters provided by more than 250 Corporate Sponsors and Friends and tens of thousands of individual donors across the country, "The 750,000th Care Package will include Top Secret Surprises generously donated by our Corporate Partners," exclaimed Carolyn Blashek, who started the organization in 2003. A special delivery of the 750,000th Package is being arranged. Six previous Operation Gratitude milestone packages contained the keys to new vehicles. 
OG Group
Military and political dignitaries, along with celebrities and representatives from many of the organization's Corporate Sponsors, will join the Operation Gratitude volunteers to assemble thousands of troop gifts in addition to the 750,000th Care Package. Delicious product samples and a hearty lunch will be provided by Corporate and local business donors.

Media are invited to attend the Milestone Celebration and the Lunch following the ceremony.

WHAT: Operation Gratitude Volunteers assemble the 750,000th Care Package

WHEN: Saturday, December 17, 2011
Care Package Assembly starts at 9 a.m.
The 750,000th Package Assembly and Celebration will occur: 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: California National Guard Armory
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA  91406
Corner of Victory and Louise; parking available on adjacent lot

Volunteers (ages 12 years and older) are welcome to assist in the on-site care package activities.

Financial donations are still needed to help pay the assembly and postage expenses of $15 per package.

Every tax deductible donation of $15 sends another care package, personally addressed to an American hero, and filled with 50+ assorted snack, entertainment and personal care items valued at $100 or more. 

 

Online donations can be made here: Donate

Donations by check can be made payable and mailed to:
Operation Gratitude
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, CA 91436

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About Operation Gratitude

Operation Gratitude annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in harm's way, to their children left behind, and to Wounded Warriors recuperating in transition units. The organization's mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member's face and express to our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people. Each package contains donated product valued at ~$125 and costs the organization $15 to assemble and ship. For safety and security, assembling of packages occurs at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, California. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 725,000 packages to American Military deployed overseas.  The 750,000th package will be assembled on December 17, 2011.

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