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Locals at home search for ways to support troops

By Diane Wagner

As the holidays approach and reports of causalities in Iraq mount, local residents are looking for ways to show support for deployed troops.

Radio station Z93 disc jockeys Mara Davis and Dunham are sponsoring "Shopping for Soldiers," a gift drive for the 101st Airborne Division stationed in Iraq.

Donations can be dropped off during business hours on Monday and Tuesday at the Daily Herald in McDonough and the News Daily in Jonesboro. A list of the gift requests, posted at www.Z93.com, includes batteries, baby wipes, Ramen noodles, powdered beverages, canned meats, stationery, portable CD players and CDs, travel games, paperback books, Nerf games, snacks, Ziploc bags and international calling cards.

Six soldiers with the 101st were killed Friday when their Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed into a riverbank near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

"They're really going to need something to boost their spirits after losing six like that," said McDonough resident Linda Brooks, whose stepson Daniel Brooks is a chief warrant officer in the 101st.

The deaths brought to 147 the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq by hostile fire since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. A total of 114 U.S. soldiers were killed in action before Bush's declaration.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced plans to send 85,000 relief troops to Iraq early next year, alerting an additional 43,000 National Guard and Reserve troops that they may be called.

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Mary Lou Austin is the director of the USO at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Austin said monetary donations and gift certificates are needed to buy food and gift bags for the soldiers passing through the airport now on two-week leaves.

"They'll be coming daily," she said. "It started this past Sunday and will go on through Dec. 31, so we'll be extremely busy the rest of the year."

The bags, prepackaged due to security concerns, contain items like lip balm, an international phone card, treats and disposable cameras. Call (404) 761-8061 to donate.

While Z93 has an arrangement with the 101st, Steve Stovall, director of public affairs for the U.S. Army Reserve Command, said security issues?and the logistics of distributing gifts during wartime?means most bulk collections can't be accepted.

"They're basically discouraging anyone but family members from sending things overseas," Stovall said. "A good thing is to find someone in your community who has a soldier overseas. Maybe you can do something for the family at home, or find out what that soldier needs."

Participating in local food and gift drives is one way to help the troops, said Theresa Hollowell, whose husband's company of Marine Corps Reserves returned from Iraq in August.

"It's nice to do for the troops because they're homesick and a lot of them are so young, but worrying about their families is a big stress factor," she said. "If you hold a management position in civilian life, your pay might be $50,000. Your reservist pay might be $19,000, and that affects your family."

These days are especially tough on reservists said retired Army sergeant major Rich Lemmon, a crime analyst for the Henry County Bureau of Police Services.

"We're deployed now in more places than we've ever been, and we have a significantly reduced (active duty) force," he said. "There's a much greater demand on our Reserves and National Guard and, one thing that's often overlooked, the families that are left behind."

Lemmon said international phone cards and access to videoconferencing help soldiers keep in touch with their families and does much to relieve stress.

One of the organizations listed as a go-between by the Department of Defense is Operation Uplink. The organization accepts calling card donations via its Web site at www.operationuplink.org.

The DoD also suggests citizens show support for the troops by donating to a military relief society such as the Army Emergency Relief at www.aerhq.org; Navy/Marine Relief Society at www.nmcrs.org; Air Force Aid Society at www.afas.org; or Coast Guard Mutual Assistance at www.cgmahg.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

The following are some ways to help support our troops overseas:

Department of Defense officials ask citizens not to flood the military mail system with letters, cards and gifts, but there are many other ways to show support for the troops:

Drop off donations for radio station Z93's "Shopping for Soldiers" during business hours Monday and Tuesday at the Daily Herald, 38 Sloan St., McDonough, or the News Daily, 138 Church St., Jonesboro. Information: www.Z93.com.

Donate a calling card to help service members keep in touch with their families: www.operationuplink.org

Send an e-mail greeting at http://anyservicemember.org

Send a virtual thank-you card at www.defendamerica.mil/nmam.html

Support USO Georgia with monetary donations, prepaid phone cards and gift certificates to warehouse clubs and supermarkets: www.usogeorgia.org. Mailing address: USO, P.O. Box 20963, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta, Ga. 30320.

Donate to the Fisher House to help families whose loved ones are being treated at military and veterans hospitals: www.fisherhouse.org.