The public can send holiday greeting cards. More details after the jump.
This holiday season, Americans can send soldiers and wounded troops greeting cards - even if they don't know their names.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax attacks, the Pentagon required that mail addressed to "any soldier" be returned to the sender, leaving Americans without a way to send mail to soldiers whose names they didn't know.
But for a second year, an American Red Cross program is allowing the public to send holiday greeting cards that aren't addressed to a particular soldier. The cards will be screened, sorted and distributed to military hospitals and bases nationally and overseas in time for the holidays.
"The eyes of the soldiers really light up" when they see greeting cards sent from the American public, said Lt. Col. David Oclander. Oclander was in Iraq around the time of last year's program and remembers seeing soldiers, even those in the most remote locations, carrying cards around.
Some put the cards "in their vehicles when they go out on patrol," he said. "It really helps brighten their days, especially when they're enduring some long separations."
The Red Cross distributed about 600,000 cards last year to soldiers in combat zones and military hospitals in the U.S. and overseas, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and a regional military medical center in Germany. For this holiday season, the organization is hoping to send more than a million cards to soldiers in military hospitals, as well as to active-duty service members, veterans and family members around the world.
Col. Dennis Doyle, Walter Reed Health Care System's deputy commander for administration, said the effect the cards had last year at military hospitals "cannot be overstated."
"There is no objective way to measure the effect of receiving a thank-you card or letter on someone recovering from combat wounds," Doyle said. "These letters made a huge impact on the morale of operations."
From Tuesday through Dec. 10, the public can send their greeting cards, with adequate postage and a return address, to Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456, Capitol Heights, Md. 20791-5456. To speed delivery, mailers should not send care packages, money or any inserts, including glitter.
They can also download cards from the American Red Cross Web site to print out and send to the program's address. This year, a Facebook Web page allows Internet users to post greetings online so the Red Cross can print the messages on cards and distribute them to troops.
In a voluntary effort, the mail service provider Pitney Bowes Inc. will screen the cards for hazardous material, and the Red Cross will sort through the cards to ensure the contents are appropriate.
The Red Cross launched this year's program Tuesday, when it set up tents and tables outside its Washington headquarters and provided cards for passers-by to write their greetings. By midday, hundreds of cards had been signed, many with lengthy messages.
Tammy Moore, 45, a Red Cross volunteer in Washington, stopped to sign a card.
"Dear soldier: As you spend this holiday season away from your family, know that our nation is thinking of you and wishing you much happiness this holiday season," Moore wrote.