Members of military ohana send aloha downrange to aid and cheer deployed warriors

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The holiday season may have passed, but the spirit of giving remains. Support for troops overseas is still a high priority for many members of the military ohana.

From Honolulu to Wahiawa, family and community members are stepping up to aid deployed Soldiers by gathering goods for care packages, sending aloha through hand-made gifts and bringing cheer and support to the men and woman of the armed services through numerous volunteer opportunities.

"I can't start this without praising our family readiness groups (FRGs)," said Jerry McKinney, honorary regimental sergeant major for the 27th Infantry Regiment. "These ladies are fantastic; they always seem to come up with ideas to help our Soldiers."

The FRGs work tirelessly to aid Soldiers downrange, as well as support the families left behind by encouraging community participation. The members constantly send care packages and cards to deployed Soldiers, make signs for returning brigades, and raise money for various events and memorials across the installations.

Children of the brigade are also coming forward to aid Iraqi children, sending school supplies, slippers and trinkets of aloha.

"Our children and family members are passionate about helping the Soldiers," said Lisa McCaffrey, FRG advisor, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT). "We all want them to know they are not forgotten."

Aloha shirts have put smiles on the faces of Soldiers since 17-year old Sascha Franzel started the program "T-shirts for Troops" more than a year ago.

Word-of-mouth and numerous appearances on the local news aided Franzel in her efforts.

"Nothing will ever compare to the feelings and understanding I gained when the Soldiers spoke of their gratitude," said Franzel. "I felt so humbled because I did not realize how something so small could make a big difference."

To date, more than 1,000 shirts have been sent to deployed troops to spread aloha and support the operations overseas.

Another group, the North America Taiwanese Women's Association (NATWA), recently purchased numerous toiletry items and sent care packages to Soldiers downrange.

The nationwide organization supports the military through numerous outreach projects, according to Su Chen, member of NATWA. The decision to send care packages to Soldiers came after visiting the Web site

"We want them to know that people back home understand their sacrifice and appreciate them," said project leader Vandy Chang, NATWA.

Other programs, including the United Service Organizations (USO) at the Honolulu International Airport and at the Hickam Air Force Base terminal provides comforts for Soldiers at the start of deployment. As troops deploy, the USO provides snacks and (comforts), including pizza, cookies and drinks to ensure a comfortable start to the long journey.

USO Hawaii sees more than 5,000 Soldiers and family members travel through each month, according to Vickie Lancaster, local USO director.

Numerous volunteer efforts aid in providing care and comfort for the military ohana.

"Our volunteers are dedicated," said Lancaster. "We have Soldiers, civilians, military personnel and family members coming together for a common purpose.

"It's incredible to see young enlisted Soldiers giving back to the organization and continuing to support the armed services by volunteering," added Lancaster. "It's a partnership."

Additionally, the organization "Treats for Troops," provides the comforts of home through military care packages.

According to the organization, currently more than 1.4 million men and women on active military duty are receiving mail delivered to nearly 2,000 military post offices, located in over 85 countries, including Navy and Coast Guard ships.

While the military provides the basics of food, shelter and gear, Soldiers are responsible for buying personal items and treats. "Treats for Troops" military care packages make Soldiers' lives a little bit easier and more enjoyable by providing hard-to-find extras.

Efforts island wide continue to grow as family members work together to show support.

"There is so much support, and everyone comes together to show the men and women of the armed services we care," said family member Joy, who recently gathered more than 4,000 care packages to send to Iraq and Afghanistan. "The Soldiers deployed are our family, many from the island, and we in Hawaii want to show them gratitude and aloha.

"The Soldiers are the real heroes, not us," added Joy.