You've probably seen a few gazillion "Support the Troops" bumper stickers. I often wonder exactly what those folks are actually doing in concrete terms to support the troops. When it comes to helping folks out, I'm a firm believer that the thought doesn't really count. Action does.
For a long while, I raged against our current (known) wars, because I didn't agree with their premise. I still don't, but I realize now that it's far more complicated than I previously understood. I also didn't realize that many of our troops feel that when we protest the premise of the war, we are also raging against the men and women who serve. That shocked me. I thought it would be obvious--I'm protesting this because I want you to come home in one, safe, healthy piece! But that's not how it can look on the other side. A pilot buddy told me that many of our troops feel forgotten. Can you imagine living your life in service to folks who pay you no mind?
So, I decided to show my support in a tangible manner. I signed up through Adopt a Platoon and started sending a monthly package and a weekly(ish) letter to a random stranger serving overseas. I've not heard back from either of the guys I've sent stuff to, but that's not surprising. Dudes are at war in a mountainous region, after all. But at least they know that someone back home who is not related to them--an absolute stranger--cares and knows they're still there. It ain't much, but it's something.
I'd be lying if I didn't confess that I do have a personal connection to all this service and its too frequent attached ache. Currently, my brother-in-law serves in the Air Force (it's cool. He's got a cushy job and doesn't really enter the fray these days). My grandfather was a gunner in WWII. He was a POW and lost a lower limb as a result of his capture. His prosthetic later played a role in an accident that resulted in his death. I had two uncles who served in Vietnam. One was killed in a freak accident on his way home; the other committed suicide several months after he returned home.
What folks don't mention when they talk about men and women "making the ultimate sacrifice" is how that sacrifice creates ripples on the surface of so many lives for so many generations. And suicide is far too common a solution for far too many soldiers who are suffering.
On a side note-- For those who want to rage against the men and women serving, thinking they should all become conscientious objectors (or are all stupid and just following orders or any of the other innumerable, offensive things I've heard): Your personal opinion about the war probably doesn't mean shit to someone who's trying to pay the bills. When you're willing to go to jail and leave your family to fend for themselves in service to your ideals, lemme know. Oh, and just how much of your salary goes to support the legal fees and monthly bills of those who risk a court marshal? You can start by sending a good hunk of your paycheck to Courage to Resist. If you can't manage the above, just shut up.
Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes! Ways to support the troops and their families:
Adopt a Platoon (if you know of any other orgs like this, let us know in the comments section).
Take a gander at this lovely song by an Army wife, Olivia Perez-Breland. She has several links on her side bar that will lead you to wonderful organizations that help veterans and their families. The song featured in the video on her blog will be available on itunes shortly and a portion of the proceeds will help the Fisher House.
The government has an excellent page full of resources over at United We Serve. Scroll through the page and see if you can't find something that calls to you.
The Coalition for Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans also has several resources for soldiers and suggestions on how civilians like you and me can help.
Operation We Are Here is a lovely little organization that has a great piece on their page about what to say and what not to say to families and returning soldiers (e.g., "did you kill anyone?" Seriously, dudes? Seriously?).
Of course it's always a good idea to check out your local Veterans Administration to see what volunteer opportunities they have. There also might be a few stellar organizations in your area. Here in Los Angeles we have an extremely impressive organization, New Directions, which provides so many services, it's mind boggling.
If you're looking to fill a staff position, why not Hire a Hero? (Check out this MMA fighter and former Marine's awesome non-profit: Hire Heroes USA.)
I know, I know. So many causes. So much to do. We can get overwhelmed and you can only do what you can do. But it's pretty easy to send a letter. Even easier to send a donation. As I said, it ain't much, but it's something, and every little caring act matters.
Edited to add from lovely suggestions in the comments section:
Operation First Response
"Operation First Response, Inc., supports our nation’s Wounded Warriors and their families with personal and financial needs. Services are provided from the onset of injury, throughout their recovery period and along their journey from military life into the civilian world. Financial aid varies as each case is based on individual needs ranging from rent, utilities, vehicle payments, groceries, clothing, and travel expenses."