If you’ve ever been to summer camp or travel for a living, you are familiar with the uncomfortable feeling of being away from home. Now, picture being part of the military and being deployed. The US Adopt a Soldier program was created in order to combat these awful feelings magnified with the added fears that come along with being in the line of duty.
Ann Johnson, the program’s creator, was very familiar with these struggles, through communicating with her son Paul when he was on his first Iraq deployment starting in 2004. Crammed into an airplane hangar with thousands of other soldiers in Habbaniyah, space was limited and MREs, small dehydrated rations in packets, were the only meals they had for months. Her son was sharing everything sent to him with fellow soldiers, so with the help of people in her life, she was able to deliver vast amounts of supplies to Paul’s battalion to make their lives more comfortable and enjoyable.
Ann was motivated to continue her quest not only through the many “thank you” letters she received, but also when a friend of hers alerted the media of what she was doing. From January of 2005 when her first interview aired up until today, she created the Adopt a US Soldier program and says the organization has over 1.2 million supporters in over 184 countries. Seventy volunteers help her here on the home front and they just celebrated their 10th birthday in February of this year.
One of the program participants is Kim Knox from the Worcester, Mass. area. “Volunteering to adopt soldiers through the AAUSS program has been an amazing and rewarding experience for me,” Kim told us via interview. She started with the program five years ago and has been a verbal advocate of it since.
What is one of her favorite parts about this program? “With today’s technology, letter writing seems to be a lost art,” Kim replied. “With my commitment to my adoptees, I have challenged myself to write regularly and to be creative.”
From the perspective of a program participant, how challenging is it? “A piece of light-hearted, upbeat, and fun ‘snail mail’ sent per week is requested [such as] letters, greeting cards, etc. Sending care packages is not required for supporters, but many do send them when they can.”
Kim loves to put a personal touch on her contributions. “I personally enjoy creating themed care packages. From holiday and seasonal themes, to hobby themed [packages], to my recent ‘Cookie Monster’ themed package filled with Girl Scout cookies. My adoptees get a real kick out of the themed packages, as do their colleagues that they share the goodies with.”
How long does the program last, when one decides to sign up and help? “When an adopted soldier’s deployment is up and he/she is returning home, I notify AAUSS of this and that I am ready to adopt another. They assign me a new adoptee, and I just continue on supporting, one soldier at a time.”
Having a connection to those who have served motivates Kim to continue participating. “My dad, my favorite aunt, some of my uncles, and cousins have all served in branches of our military. I also have several good friends who are Army veterans.” Family bonding is an added bonus, for her. “My dad and I go shopping together regularly, and he contributes to the care packages I send my adopted soldiers.”
The gratitude of the military members who get the letters and packages is real and lasting. Kim has gained a lifelong friend from the experience. “We have continued to cultivate our friendship over these last few years. I tease sometimes that through AAUSS, it seems I’ve adopted a ‘little brother’ for life. I still send him an occasional surprise care package to wherever he’s stationed. I am honored to call this OEF veteran my friend.”
Ann rightfully so has a lot of pride in what her organization does. “If there’s anything I want veterans and active duty military to know, it’s that we are here to serve them,” Ann says of AAUSS. “We have been given lots of money, and I don’t want it or need it. We redirect that money into goods that are sent to the military.”
She said that veterans need to be aware of their benefits, including the VA home loan, even though “it’s horrible how the VA is taking care of the soldiers and veterans.” This is why VA Home Loan Centers is also here to help veterans access their benefits.
Ann intends to keep the AAUSS program going strong. “We are now as big as eBay,” she said, with a laugh. “We can take 2,000 website hits a minute and not go down!”
Get more information on how to participate with or donate to this program at http://www.adoptaussoldier.org, like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/adopt.a.us.soldier.official and follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AdoptAUSSoldier.
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