Defense Secretary Lauds Troop-Support Groups

By Carmen L. Burgess
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2006 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today thanked members of the Defense Department’s “America Supports You” program for their unwavering support to the men and women of the armed forces.

“Hero Hugs” founder Bailey Reese meets with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld following the secretary’s remarks at the America Supports You Summit at the Pentagon, Dec. 13. Reese has sent more than 16,000 care packages to troops through her child-run organization based in Niceville, Fla. Photo by Carmen L. Burgess  '(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
America Supports You highlights and facilitates support for U.S. servicemembers and their families.

Addressing representatives of more than 80 troop-support groups attending the ASY Community Group Annual Summit, Rumsfeld thanked them for their outpouring of support since the program’s inception in 2004. “We know what you’re doing for folks in uniform and their families,” he said. “They appreciate it, and we appreciate you doing it.”

The ASY program was developed to connect the American public with men and women in uniform both overseas and at home. More than 230 organizations have come on board, in addition to more than two dozen corporations signing on as team members.

Since the program’s creation, ASY members have sent more than 3 million care packages to deployed troops, mailed more than 3.4 million letters of support, provided more than 1,500 computers to military families, and given more than $3.4 million in financial aid to troops and their families.

“We know very well that the strength of this effort doesn’t start here at the Pentagon,” Rumsfeld said. “It comes from each of you -- your initiative, creativity, compassion and concern.”

The secretary praised the groups’ work on the annual Freedom Walks held in tribute to those killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The event first took place in Washington in 2005 with more than 10,000 participants. With the help of ASY members throughout the country, Freedom Walks were held in more than 130 cities in 2006 with tens of thousands of participants.

“You are true patriots demonstrating support of troops and their families. That is an amazing thing,” Rumsfeld said. “These initiatives come from you folks. They say something about the spirit and compassion of our country.”

The secretary went on to emphasize the need for support groups when spoke of the history of the Union League Club in Philadelphia. The club was founded in 1868 to bolster support for President Abraham Lincoln.

“It may be hard to believe,” Rumsfeld said, “but even in the northern states there were many who thought the Civil War wasn’t worth the fight.”

He went on to tell how Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s critics called him an “unmitigated scoundrel” and compared him to the likes of Biblical traitor Judas Iscariot.

“I think that’s an award-winning way to criticize a secretary of defense,” said Rumsfeld, sending the audience into fits of laughter. “That’s why the Union League was created -- to provide support to the troops and boost the morale of the country.”

“I think that we could draw a straight line from them to the folks in this room today in terms of purpose and determination,” he said.

Rumsfeld also spoke about his last trip to visit deployed troops, from which he returned Dec. 10. He said he wanted to see the troops one last time, to look them in the eye and personally thank them.

“I leave the Pentagon knowing that our military strength is not in weapons, airplanes or ships, but in individuals,” he said. “It’s in the hearts of those in uniform, in their patriotism, their truly impressive professionalism and in their determination to accomplish their mission.”

“I hope that you’ll keep doing what you’re doing,” Rumsfeld said. “I think this effort is very important.”