How to support the troops this season

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ah, the holiday season is upon us. What better time to show our support for our men and women in uniform?

But have we really been supporting them?

Sure, we thank them when we see them at the airport. We attend Memorial Day and Veterans Day events to show our appreciation. And with good reason.

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According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 42 million American men and women have served during wartime.

Nearly 1.2 million died while serving. Nearly 1.5 million were wounded.

Since 9/11, more than 5,300 have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 36,000 have been wounded — many have debilitating injuries that have changed their lives forever.

We should debate the rightness or wrongness of various engagements, but we know that freedom comes at a steep price — and we honor those who have secured it for us.

But are we really supporting the troops?

During the peak of World War II, American defense spending was 42 percent of our gross domestic product.

Everyone — those who served as well as those who remained at home — needed to unite and sacrifice.

Today, defense spending is around 3 percent of GDP. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have required little or no sacrifice from most of us.

We haven’t paid higher taxes to fund the wars — our government borrowed the money for that.

We haven’t needed to buy war bonds or work long hours at a factory to produce tanks and planes.

We haven’t given up vacations, new cars, gasoline, meat, sugar and the hundreds of other items that were rationed during World War II.

Most haven’t done so for a simple reason: Our support of the troops has not been a matter of need, but a matter of choice.

Aside from our goodwill and appreciation, the fact is this: Many have chosen to not support the troops much at all.

As you read this, thousands of soldiers are serving in hostile conditions. Some will be badly wounded — some won’t make it home.

They don’t want our pity, to be sure. They are trained warriors. They volunteered to serve.

But they could use a little support — and we don’t have to sacrifice much to provide it.

“There are many small things people can do that can make a world of difference,” says Jerry Newberry, director of communications for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

Such as assisting the family of a service member who has been deployed.

“Family members go through a long period of wondering, worrying and waiting,” says Newberry. “But they still need to deal with the car breaking down, a child getting sick, a death in the family. If you know of such families, reach out to them.”

Or write an e-mail. The troops — particularly those recuperating in military hospitals — love receiving e-mails (, letters and care packages.

Donate time. Your local Veterans Affairs office, VFW and other legitimate organizations are in need of volunteers.

Organize a toy drive for children of deployed soldiers. Support the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Provide gift cards to troops through

Donate money. You can give to a variety of needed services for military members — or support the Red Cross to provide basic necessities to service members in military hospitals.

Just go to and click on “Assistance,” or “Contribute.”

Hey, the holidays are upon us. What better time to offer real support to our men and women in uniform?

Tom Purcell, author of “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” and “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.

and is nationally syndicated.