At the end of a long, difficult day in a distant land, a lakes area soldier may find a comforting word from home makes a difference.
In an effort to serve as a community connection between the home front and soldiers, many who are serving in dangerous places, the Dispatch is launching SoldierLink. The link is available online at the Dispatch's Web site and will be a regular feature in the newspaper.
SoldierLink online provides photo galleries from soldiers serving in Iraq. Troop Trax provides a message board to create a dialogue between the community and soldiers. Community members may send notes of encouragement and soldiers are encouraged to reply when they have time and let people at home know how they are doing.
The Dispatch expects the information to grow, providing a central location for subjects ranging from tips on mailing packages, wish lists of items soldiers actually need, and how people can help here at home.
Service clubs, area businesses, social organizations and church groups may find SoldierLink useful for challenges to help raise funds for phone time between soldiers and their families or to help Family Readiness Groups reach goals. Others may come up with new and inventive ideas to help make the long separation easier to bear.
The Family Readiness Group continues to get donations for cot organizers and is committed to a goal of providing one for each of the 152 Minnesota Army National Guard area soldiers serving in Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor. The soldiers are from units stationed in Brainerd, Wadena and St. Cloud.
Area school students are breaking open piggy banks for a penny drive to raise funds to help soldiers. Troop Trax will be a way for students to leave personal messages as well. There are links for the 367th Engineering Battalion serving in Afghanistan and the 434th Main Support Battalion serving in Iraq.
At Jenny's Hallmark in the Westgate Mall, Jenny Holden is setting up an area where people can write messages to soldiers. The cards then will be mailed in rotation to soldiers from the 194th Armor now serving near Baghdad.
Go online to www.brainerddispatch.com and pick SoldierLink from the menu on the left side.
Individuals can post messages on the online board or e-mail Kathi Nagorski, city editor, in care of SoldierLink to email@example.com, or by mail to Brainerd Dispatch, P.O. Box 974, Brainerd MN 56401.
Photos for the online gallery may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenny's Hallmark is supplying the cards for the effort and asking for freewill offerings to cover postage and help pay for phone time for soldiers.
Holden hopes the response is enough to fuel a continuous mailing effort.
"We thought that way we could do our part," Holden said, noting a postmark from home was one of the things returning soldiers said they greatly appreciated. "We are committed to this and we want to do our part and we'll get the mail out to those soldiers."
Other groups and businesses have adopted soldiers and are sending letters and care packages to them. Ideas from one may help inspire other random acts of kindness. Long after deployment ceremonies let the general public know soldiers were leaving their homes, jobs and loved ones for extended service, family members and friends continue to have the daily stress of worrying about their safety.
SoldierLink is one effort to let the soldiers and their loved ones know they have a wider community support to draw from and another way to stay connected.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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