Veteran’s Day: 12 Ways to Give Back to Our Troops and Vets

“What good is a dream’s pursuit with not the liberty to pursue it?”

I always say, although our military serves us proudly abroad, when they return home, it’s time for us to serve them.

But how, exactly, should we give back?

As is the unfortunate case with many aspects of life, it’s far easier to remain indifferent and ignore the service of our military veterans rather than step up and take action — or even offer simple thanks to a veteran in uniform on the street.

Beyond the natural tendency of remaining indifferent, I think it’s fairly tough for ordinary citizens and non-military families to figure out how to properly reach out to troops overseas and honor those veterans who’ve returned home — if for fear of politicizing┬áthe merit of military service, or being improper, or insensitive of their many sacrifices. Who would have thought that showing gratitude and giving back to veterans could become such a difficult issue?

12 Ways to Give Back to Our Troops and Vets

There are so many different organizations and charities that support our troops overseas and returning veterans that it can be a bit overwhelming to choose between them. Here, I’ve provided a list of some of my personal favorites — each cause is slightly different and offers creative methods for giving back to our military personnel.

For Those Currently Serving Abroad

1. Send a message of thanks

The fastest and easiest way to show your support for military personnel currently serving overseas is to offer a simple message of thanks. Visit America Supports You or Let’s Say Thanks and write a message of gratitude and support to those protecting our freedoms and fighting for liberty abroad. You might be surprised how much a short, simple “Thank you” from a fellow American citizen back home. Chances are you’ll never even cross paths in life with the troop who receives your message — which really makes reaching out to him or her all the more beautiful and special.

2. The USO

The USO is the mack-daddy organization of military support and veterans’ services. USO.org is rich with donation information, suggestions for fundraisers, and details tons of great ongoing programs that provide for those in military service and military veterans who have returned home.

3. Soldiers’ Angels (Text “Soldiers” to 20222 to donate $5)

Soldiers’ Angels is a terrific nonprofit organization, through which ordinary American citizens can “adopt” a military serviceman or servicewoman who is serving overseas and send them gifts, care packages, calling cards and specialized equipment like sand scarves. I became a “Soldier’s Angel” in 2002, shortly after military actions began in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. This year, you can send a text message of the word “Soldiers” (no quotations) to phone number “20222” to donate $5 to Soldiers’ Angels in support of care-packages for troops overseas!

4. Green Beans Coffee and the “Cup O Joe For A Joe” Program

Do you love coffee as much as I do? Green Beans Coffee is a really cool coffee company that began by starting coffee shops on American military bases overseas. Today, they have stores and shops across the world and primarily serve troops fresh, high-quality coffees to give them a taste of home and an extra jolt of energy during their long days and nights. Their “Cup O’ Joe for a Joe” program lets patriots back home buy cups of coffee for troops serving abroad, which they redeem with free vouchers on their military bases overseas! Even better, your donation can include an emailed message of thanks and support — and the troops who receive your coffee donation will often write back!

Here’s my episode of RenegadeTV on “The Small Stuff,” in which I discuss this awesome program:

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5. Operation American Soldier

Operation American Soldier‘s mission is to make sure that “No soldier walks away from mail call empty handed.” Not every troop overseas receives the privilege of care-packages and letters from home. Thanks to Operation American Soldier, you can send a care-package and letter of thanks to a troop who would love to receive one.

For Veterans Returning Home

8. Simply reach out. Say thank you.

When you come across a man or woman in uniform in your day-to-day life, don’t be so shy or afraid to take a moment to introduce yourself and say hello or thank you for being in the military — especially on Veteran’s Day. Read my poem and true story account of an impromptu homecoming welcome for troops returning from overseas in the early morning hours at Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport entitled, Dallas at Dawn. You don’t need to start a slow-clap round of applause, or offer a salute, or read a long-winded poem. Just say hi. Just say you appreciate their service. Just say thanks.

7. The Fisher House

The Fisher House is a “home away from home” for the families of military veterans who are undergoing treatment at medical centers on military bases and in Virginia. There are 45 Fisher Houses located on 18 military installations and 15 VA medical centers. The Fisher House is also a grassroots fundraising nonprofit organization that has raised millions of dollars for special programs that provide things like travel expenses for wounded troops, educational scholarships for the children of military personnel, and much more.

8. Operation Homefront

Operation Homefront is a Texas-based nonprofit organization that offers a litany of special and very important food-assistance services for military families enduring difficult financial times. Sadly, many military families have to suffer from not only the long months during which a family-member is abroad, but also the difficult times that can endure when they return home and struggle to return to “normal” civilian life. Operation Homefront is a great organization that provides much needed help to struggling military families.

9. Homes For Our Troops

Homes For Our Troops builds specialty houses for wounded and disabled military veterans — completely free of charge. Homes For Our Troops specializes in provided for wounded troops who require special access to and throughout their homes, like wheelchair ramps and other necessities. I learned about Homes For Our Troops through one of its celebrity advocates, guitarist and singer Aaron Lewis of the popular rock band, Staind.

10. Wounded Warrior Project

The Wounded Warrior Project is an impressive organization with big reach, striving to help wounded and disabled military veterans heal both mentally and physically while readjusting to life back home. The Wounded Warrior Project uses donations for peer counseling and special retreats for wounded veterans, even government policy advocacy to support military veterans. In partnership with companies like UnderArmour, you can donate performance clothing and athletic-wear to wounded troops.

11. Hire a Veteran

Many veterans of the military have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. One of the many challenges is finding employment again, especially in this dreadful economy. To help military veterans readjust and get back into the civilian workforce, the United States Department of Labor’s VETS Program and other nonprofit organizations and job-seeking websites help vouch for and place qualified veterans in businesses.

For Honoring the Fallen

12. Fallen Heroes Project

The Fallen Heroes Project provides beautiful hand-drawn portraits of a Fallen Hero to each military family, completely free of charge. Internationally-recognized artist Michael G. Reaga has undertaken the program, providing thousands of hand-crafted portraits of military men and women who have paid the ultimate price to their families — who have also paid a monumental price.

*Update 10/15/2010*

I cannot believe I neglected to include my friend and former co-worker (and Emmy-award winning documentary film producer) Tim Gray‘s many noble projects to honor World War II veterans, especially Major Dick Winters and the 101st Airborne’s famed Easy Company — well known for being featured in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers.

Tim, who has filmed several documentaries on World War II veterans, is currently raising funds for a Richard Winters leadership statue to be erected in Normandy and for the cause of recognizing all Americans who “led the way” in the invasion of Normandy on “D-Day,” June 6, 1944. Join the Facebook Page here to support the cause and keep up with all the news and updates. To learn more about this incredibly important movement of honoring our World War II veterans and to donate, please visit Legacy Connect: Easy Company.

Sound Off!

What are some of the ways that you support the troops overseas, provide for veterans back home, and honor those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom? Remember… our military serves us proudly, and when they return home, it’s time for us to serve them.

Flickr photo credit: Jeff Turner

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