By Cruz Bustamante
As the weather grows warmer and the days get longer, we are reminded that summer is fast approaching. However, the shadow of war has made the days seem less bright here in our Golden State and across the nation. As we go about our day-to-day lives, it is important that each of us take the time to remember our soldiers overseas and the families they have left behind.
As the war in Iraq continues, the families of Californians serving in the military reserves or the National Guard are left particularly vulnerable because deployments are extending for unusually long periods and may even last longer than two years. Soldiers must leave their civilian jobs, but few receive their salaries or benefits while on active duty. These circumstances often leave military families with drastically reduced financial means.
Although Senator Machado, Assemblymember Parra and I have introduced legislation to create the Military Family Relief Fund (MFRF) to help ease the financial burden on these families, this process will take time to reach fruition. In the meantime, our soldiers and their families need our help.
There are two new programs that the Department of Defense has recently announced, both of which offer concrete ways that all Americans can help our deployed troops and their families. Individuals and organizations can show their support with “Gift of Groceries” gift certificates that are available through the Department of Defense at www.commissaries.com or by calling: 1 (877) 770-GIFT. Any American can now also help troops with the expense of calling home through the “Help Our Troops Call Home” program, which was designed to help servicemembers call home from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. You may find out more about donating a prepaid calling card to a military member by logging on to any of the three Armed Services Exchange Web sites: the Army and Air Force Exchange Service: http://www.aafes.com/, the Navy Exchange Service Command: http://www.navy-nex.com/, and the Marine Corps Exchange: http://www.usmc-mccs.org/.
I am confident that Californians from all walks of life will reach out to their neighbors and associates to ensure that these families receive the help they deserve.