By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2009 - A Colorado-based group is connecting deployed troops with volunteers eager to "adopt" them.
Since its inception four years ago, "Adopt a U.S. Soldier" has connected more than 100,000 servicemembers to 265,000 supportive Americans who have sent them regular care packages, wrote letters and, on occasion, run errands for family members.
"It's been such a privilege to work with this organization and see it grow to what it is today," Ann Johnson, the group's founder and chief executive officer, said. "We are committed to our soldiers. We love them. We will continue to do this work for them and their families."
Johnson started the group when her son, Paul, was stationed in Iraq. She asked her friends if they would help to support his unit. They agreed and sent nearly $3,000 of care-package items. Johnson extended her support to other deployed troops, and the program began.
Jacob Poehls,8, and his mother, Nora Hall -- both group volunteers -- were featured recently on the NBC Today Show, along with their adopted servicemember, Marine Corps Sgt. Balthazar Pineda.
Hall said it was a privilege for her son, who has a learning disability, to have a Marine pen pal. The experience has given him confidence as well as a reason to work on his reading and writing skills, she said.
Beth Ann Alitt, of Encinitas, Calif., who also has adopted several soldiers over the years, said she feels as if she is now an official "Army mom."
"Since I've started, I've met so many soldiers and their families," she said. "You adopt one. He returns home. Then you adopt another and another. You send care packages. You e-mail. You do things with their kids; you just instantly become a part of their family."
Satin Modesitt of Vero Beach, Fla., said the program establishes a lasting connection to the soldier.
"It is so rewarding when your soldier comes home," Modesitt said. "You are just so relieved. You just feel like it is your son, brother, daughter or sister. This has just been an amazing thing for my family. We have grown, along with the military families we've touched." To join the group, volunteers can register online at the Adopt a U.S. Soldier Web site.
"We try to make the process as easy as possible," Johnson said. "The great thing about this is you can adopt more than one soldier, and many soldiers are adopted by others so you can share in your commitment."
Adopt a U.S. Soldier