Thanksgiving 2004: Support for US Troops Still High

By Kathleen Rhodes | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Americans may still be sharply divided over the wisdom of the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq, but their gratitude toward the U.S. troops prosecuting the war still appears to be high.

The Department of Defense recently launched the America Supports You program, reportedly in response to the increased desire on the part of American citizens to express their encouragement for service men and women in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The America Supports You website allows individuals to share their ideas for supporting the troops, which will "have a positive impact on the morale and spirit of those who serve," according to Charles Abell, the principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, who spoke at a news conference last week.

"We had so many people telling us what they were doing to support the troops that we decided to make a website so that the troops had a place to ... see where the support was coming from," Lynette Ebberts, director of media outreach for the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told .

Ebberts said "support [for the troops] is absolutely phenomenal. More and more Americans want to know how they can help." And the America Supports You website is already a hit, she said. During one recent morning, Ebberts recounted, "we had at least 12-hundred people go to the website to join the team, telling us about what they are doing for the troops. People want to show their support for the troops."

The latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll indicated that 47 percent of Americans believe the U.S. made a mistake by sending troops to Iraq. Fifty-one percent said they supported the effort and that it was not a mistake.

But this public split over the wisdom of waging war should not be confused with deteriorating support for U.S. troops in the warzones, Ebberts said. "I don't think anybody's support of the [troops] has wavered," she added.

Abell agreed. "If there's somebody out there who philosophically does not support this war, that's one thing. But supporting the young men and women who are participating in it is easy, I think."

He also noted that "during the presidential campaign ... folks on both sides of the issue expressed great support for the troops and for their families."

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told that she too sees no evidence of declining public support for the troops. There may not be as many flags visible on cars as there were during earlier stages of the war, but there are still a lot of "flag stickers," Donnelly said.

The American public also expressed its support for the troops when they "voted for the commander-in-chief" on Election Day, she added.

Samantha Quigley of the American Forces Press Service pointed to the number of websites dedicated to pro-military causes. "Dozens of independent organizations are ready and willing to help those who want to help the troops," she said.

The Freedom Calls Foundation, the Veterans of Foreign Wars' "Operation Link," and the United Service Organizations' "Operation Care Package" attempt to gather money and supplies to be sent in the form of care packages to the troops.

Other groups like Operation Dear Abby, AdoptaPlatoon, and AdoptaSoldier allow participating citizens to actually communicate with the service members. And organizations ranging from the National Football League to Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot and Starbucks have launched their own efforts this November to help the troops.

Do these efforts coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday? "It just turned out that way, and it happened to be perfect planning," Ebberts said.