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Depot helps wounded soldiers phone home

December 23, 2004|by DON AINES and RICHARD F. BELISLE

chambersburg@herald-mail.comwaynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Uncle Sam wants his GIs to fight his battles, but he won't put up the coins for wounded soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen to call home.

Letterkenny Army Depot employees, however, have donated thousands of minutes of long-distance service to wounded members of the Armed Forces recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in the form of prepaid phone cards.

Tory Mazzola, an aide to U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the government pays for calls for military personnel, but the time is limited and there is often a long wait. "These phone cards will be a huge help," he said.

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In October, U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., introduced the Troops Phone Home Free Act. Filner said Thursday that the measure later was incorporated into a defense appropriations bill and provided for an allowance of $40 a month in long-distance service to service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

The measure did not cover GIs wounded in the war who are recuperating in stateside hospitals, an oversight Filner said he hopes will be dealt with when Congress reconvenes next year.

James Jenkins, Letterkenny Army Depot's equal employment manager, said he e-mailed the nearly 1,200 depot employees plus the other 800 who work for the depot's tenants and contractors, asking them to donate prepaid phone cards to the service personnel. Jenkins said he sent the e-mail at the suggestion of co-worker Dorothy Van Brakle,

As of Wednesday, Jenkins said he had collected enough cards for wounded veterans at the hospital to make 12,500 minutes of calls.

The cards, available at department stores, drug stores and other retail outlets, allow purchasers to buy blocks of prepaid minutes that can be used to call anywhere in the world.

Cards collected so far have been sent to Walter Reed for military personnel recovering from war wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

"At Walter Reed Army Hospital, hundreds of our nation's finest are recovering from war wounds," Jenkins said in his e-mail to the employees. In many cases, their rehabilitation will take several months. Their main request is for phone cards, he said.

The government does not pay for long-distance phone calls and many of these wounded soldiers are rationing their calls home, Jenkins said. Many will be in the hospital throughout the holidays, he said.

"They should have free stuff. It shouldn't even be a question," Filner said of phone service for the wounded veterans. He said the Defense Department should be able to handle the issue without Congress having to act.

Filner said the Defense Department is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a day on the war "and they don't have money for a phone call."

Jenkins said he is will send the next batch of cards to units fighting overseas.

"We're doing this to show our support for those who are giving so much of themselves and for their families," he said in his e-mail. "Yellow Ribbons on your car are a nice show of support, but a minor investment in a donated phone card would actually make a difference to a wounded service member," he said.

Jenkins said phone cards can be sent to the Medical Family Assistance Center at Walter Reed Medical Center, 6900 Georgia Ave., Washington, DC 20307-5001.

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