Wicker Says Christmas is Time for Troop Support & Volunteerism

December 21, 2009

This Christmas season, people across Mississippi are observing cherished traditions and creating new memories. Friends and neighbors are gathering for parties, families are preparing to host relatives or travel to see distant loved ones, and children are brimming with anticipation of gifts that await them under the Christmas tree. The spirit of Christmas is radiant as we sit next to our friends and families in the pews of our churches, singing Silent Night in the dimness of candlelit services.

                                        Remembering Our Troops
As we gather with those dearest to us to celebrate the season of hope and peace, we should especially remember our men and women in uniform who are unable to be home for the holidays. Today, there are nearly 180,000 American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the days leading up to Christmas, more Americans are preparing to deploy as part of the recently announced Afghanistan surge.

These men and women are carrying on another important American tradition. Dating back to General Washington and his men, who spent a brutally frigid Christmas Eve barefoot at Valley Forge in 1776, our military has always been willing to sacrifice. Today’s brave soldiers are providing messages of hope and peace to future generations of Americans.  They are protecting our freedom thousands of miles away, but they remain present in our thoughts and prayers.

As our troops serve in distant lands this Christmas, there are ways Americans can show them our gratitude and support. Through organizations like Operation Gratitude, civilians can share their appreciation by sending care packages and personal letters of support. These parcels provide military personnel with some of the small comforts of home, including edible treats, hygiene products, magazines and DVDs, and notes of encouragement. There are many organizations with similar missions, and the Christmas season is an especially important time for civilians to get involved. You can find other ways to support our troops at www.ourmilitary.mil.

The Department of Defense (DOD) has provided another unique way for Americans to convey their support.  DOD’s website allows civilians to use technology to share the Christmas spirit by posting video messages, which service men and women can view from their posts abroad. Currently, there are many videos of children, families, stateside troops, and musicians wishing our men and women overseas a Merry Christmas. You can view these messages or post one of your own by visiting www.defense.gov.

                                        Help for Those in Need
Just as we take extra measures to care for our troops at Christmas, we should also look around our own communities and see to the needs of those who are less fortunate. The holidays can be a stressful season for families facing financial hardship, particularly during the current economic downturn.  

The Salvation Army leads two of our nation’s most generous charitable initiatives during the holidays. Since 1979, the Angel Tree Program has enabled citizens to give gifts of new toys and clothing to children who might not otherwise receive anything for Christmas. This year, citizens across our state have donated to the program, and many Mississippi children will have a brighter Christmas because of their generosity.

The Red Kettle campaign is another important charity that helps the less fortunate at Christmas. In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee set out the first red kettle and rang a bell, seeking small donations for the poor and the hungry. Today, the red kettle and the chiming bell are both symbols of giving in America. The charity’s proceeds go toward gifts for shut-ins in hospitals and nursing homes, provide hot, sit-down dinners at homeless shelters, and help families in need. I recently had the opportunity to ring the bell outside of a supermarket in Tupelo. The generosity I observed that day showed the Christmas spirit is alive and well in Mississippi.

I hope all Mississippians enjoy a blessed Christmas and a happy, prosperous new year. We should all look for ways to support our troops and to help those in need – during the holiday season and throughout the year. Merry Christmas from my family to yours.