By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 7, 2008 - While the fourth annual National America Supports You Freedom Walk was winding down for its nearly 10,000 participants, the day's activities were just beginning for troop-support groups set up in the Pentagon's South Parking lot. Representatives of more than 20 groups that support America Supports You gathered here Sept. 7, to let the walkers know how they support the troops. America Supports You is a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
"You don't just have to be a big corporation to help out," said Clint Green, with Operation from the Heart, a Michigan-based care package group. "Participation of average, everyday citizens is what really matters."
Green's organization was joined by other care package groups and veteran service organizations, as well as organizations providing a variety of other services to troops and their families.
No matter the individual missions, all the groups agreed with Green. They were there to show their support for the troops.
"I really think ... we need to show our support for the troops that are out there fighting for us on the pointy end of the spear," said Shelley Marshall, with Military Officers Association of America's "The Scholarship Fund."
Marshall, a retired Navy captain who was in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, said the walk had a lot of personal meaning to her as well and it's an important way to commemorate the day.
MOAA's Scholarship Fund provides interest free loans and grants to qualified children of retired Military officers and active or retired enlisted Military personnel. The funding is available for up to five years of undergraduate study at an accredited 2- or 4-year college or university.
Like MOAA, some groups have been supporting the troops for decades. The American Red Cross is a perfect example.
"We're an organization that's over 125 years old," said Su Ferguson, with Service to the Armed Forces America Red Cross. "Our foundation is helping servicemembers and their family members.
"It started with our founder, Clara Barton, during the Civil War," she added. "So we have a long tradition of providing service to Military members, their family members and veterans."
Ferguson said the America Supports You Freedom Walk sends troops a clear message.
"That we support them," she said. "That we're here for them and we're proud of what they're doing."
No matter the support they offer, each organization has unique circumstances that motivate them to ensure the troops and their families are cared for.
For Becky Mizener, founder of California-based Packed With Pride, her son Jesse, provided that motivation by enlisting in the Army.
When he left for Basic Training, she wrote and asked him if she could write to any of his "Battle Buddies" as well. When he deployed to Iraq, she sent a care package and of course, asked if he had friends who could use a boost.
"Before I knew it, we were mailing packages to Jesse and 17 other soldiers," she said in a flier introducing her project.
Even after her son was killed in January 2004, while serving with the 542nd Maintenance Company in Iraq, Mizener continued to send care packages, her mother, Irene Bustamante, said.
"It's like a religion," she said. "It's something that she's constantly thinking about.
"She keeps on expanding and expanding," Bustamante said. "Now she's got a whole [area] a church donated to use as long as she wants, but she's outgrowing that, too!"
Currently, 1,500 servicemembers receive regular packages from Packed With Pride, she added.
Mizener had left earlier to participate in the walk, which began at 9 a.m. at the Women's Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery and covered a mile route to the Pentagon. The Oak Ridge Boys treated the walkers to a musical tribute filled with patriotic songs soon after they arrived at the Pentagon.