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2010 Archive of Blog posts

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Soccer, Marines and kids in Helmand Province

It has been two weeks since Matt and I arrived at Camp Leatherneck and the program is off to a running start. We received 100 soccer balls that were provided by Spirit of America early this morning outside the Leatherneck Gate. These soccer balls will be going to the Marines in Southern Helmand who will distribute them throughout their district.

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While there are many languages spoken in Afghanistan, soccer is a kind of universal language here. e universal language throughout the country. Everyone from kids to adults understand the language of soccer and its ability to cut through ethnic or tribal differences. We look forward to reporting on how small contributions like soccer balls, make a difference on the ground. Small is often better here in Afghanistan.

The days have become rather pleasant with cool nights recently. Matt and I are finally set up in our office and will be going down to the Battalions within the next few days. As we make our journey across Helmand Province, we will report on the ever-changing human and physical environments that Matt and I encounter and report on the changing face of international aid and development.

You can support our work with the Marines in Afghanistan here.

Note: The photos and statements above do not constitute endorsement of Spirit of America by the United States Department of Defense or its personnel.

2010: Our most important year ever.

Greetings and Happy Holidays,

2010 has been Spirit of America's most important year ever. This year we've seen that Spirit of America's fast, flexible and decentralized support of our troops is especially important in Afghanistan. The best thing about what we do is that it really works. With your help we provide exactly what our troops say is needed.  The photo above is from Soldiers we supported in 2010. You can help here.

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We'll be sending you several emails this week -- for the final week of the year, we are trying to raise $50,000 to fund our innovative approach to supporting our troops abroad. Please consider a year-end gift to Spirit of America so that we can continue our vital work in support of our troops. Give here.

Our simple approach has a great ripple effect. For example, when a Soldier gives an Afghan widow a sewing machine from SoA it helps her provide for her family, which allows her children to go to school instead of work or fight. The goodwill it creates makes our troops safer and more successful in their mission. And, the Afghans have a direct and positive experience of who the American people really are DC initiative, generosity, a helping hand - an experience of the true spirit of America. The support we provide is funded by contributions from the people on this email list -- so we need your gift, however small. Contribute here.

Our greatest contribution since 2003

This year we made what I believe will be seen as our single greatest contribution since I founded SoA in 2003. We were the impetus and provided the private-sector leadership for a new military regulation that will allow the American people to provide new levels of support for our troops DC not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world. The regulation also enables a new Spirit of America initiative: the Commander Support Program.

I'm sure the idea that a military regulation could be our greatest contribution is odd and learning about one is not on your holiday to-do list. Nonetheless, I really hope you'll read the description of CCR 27-14 and SoA's Commander Support Program here:

It explains the importance of the new regulation and why there are now It also explains why there are now two Spirit of America personnel on the ground in Afghanistan helping our troops. Here they are ?DC Matt Valkovic and Chris Hellie ?DC shortly after arriving at Camp Leatherneck several days ago.

Putting two SoA representatives on the ground in Afghanistan is an incredible opportunity for us to have an even greater impact on our troops' safety and success -- and on the people of Afghanistan.  But all of this work is funded by contributions from you -- and so as the end of the year approaches, we hope you will consider supporting our troops as part of your holiday season. You can help here

One final photo from troops we helped in 2010:

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All of us at Spirit of America wish you and yours a happy, prosperous New Year. You have been very generous with your support and we greatly appreciate it.

Onward and upward,

Jim Hake Founder and CEO

ps: Please tell your friends and family about our work ?DC remember this email from Marine Commander Ben Watson about schools opened by his Marines. Spirit of America provided school supplies, backpacks and blackboards.

------ Forwarded Message

From: "Watson LtCol Benjamin"

Date: Thu, 22 Jul 2010 07:18:10 +0430

To: Jim Hake

Subject: FW: KOSHTAY SCHOOL

Jim-

Stuff like this is worth another company of Marines in terms of impact on the enemy. We have opened up 2 summer schools in the last couple of weeks, with hundreds of kids in attendance. Teachers are even teaching without pay because it is the first opportunity they've had to open schools since the Taliban shut them down years ago (GIROA will start paying them when the annual school year starts in Sept). In the meantime, a lot of hard work by Marines and some supportive local leaders has renovated and opened the schools, coaxed the teachers/principals out, and the supplies donated by SOA have made it possible for students to take maximum advantage of this opportunity. The classes grow in size daily as the word spreads, and we are using these schools to leverage the surrounding communities to reopen others schools as well. It is working; we expect a third school to open this week, and have a couple of dozen lined up for the official school year start in Sept.

Seeing these schools open is, quite literally, the best thing I've seen since we've been here. It was hard to stop smiling. Thanks to you and SOA for your selfless generosity. Little things matter more than we often realize, and SOA is helping us to make a difference.

Semper Fidelis.

Ben

Note: The photos and statements above do not constitute endorsement of Spirit of America by the United States Department of Defense or its personnel.

Our Most Important Contribution

This year we made what I believe will be seen as our single greatest contribution since I founded SoA in 2003.

We were the impetus and provided the private-sector leadership for a new military regulation that will allow the American people to provide new levels of support for our troops not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world. The regulation also enables a new Spirit of America initiative, the Commander Support Program.

Here is the background:

The question

In 2009 we heard from US troops at all levels that Spirit of America's support was critically important to them. General Jim Mattis said, SoA's direct support is often as important as a resupply of ammunition. Others told us that our support creates goodwill and rapid progress that helps keep them safer and saves lives.

This was very rewarding to hear but we thought we could do more. In meetings with Soldiers and Marines in early 2010 we asked a simple question: how can we do even better? How can we take Spirit of America's model of fast, flexible and decentralized support for the troops and make an even greater positive impact

The answer: the Commander Support Program  

The answers and input from our troops led us to create the Commander Support Program (CSP). The idea was to have Spirit of America personnel on the ground in Afghanistan. Similar to embedded reporters SoA personnel would be embedded with military units ?DC living, eating and working alongside the troops with the sole purpose of providing support from the American people and private sector. This approach would allow Spirit of America to respond to needs more quickly. Speed really matters on the front lines. And, SoA personnel would be able to see opportunities where the American people could help that the troops themselves might not see. Thus, we could be more helpful as well as faster. The Commander Support Program would also establish a direct, real-time connection between the American people and our troops on the front lines. Americans would have a representative on the ground in Afghanistan who could say, I'm here. This is how you can help our troops right now.

With support from Marine commanders at all levels, we planned to begin the Commander Support Program with the Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. And, because we didn't want this new program to detract from our traditional support we pursued new funding. Fortunately, we were successful and a major foundation awarded us a grant for the Program's pilot phase.

The problem

To get things going, the Marines in Afghanistan only needed approval from their military attorneys in the United States. We all expected the approval to come quickly. We were wrong. In June 2010, the military attorneys said the Commander Support Program could not be allowed. Even worse, the attorneys said that Spirit of America's traditional operations since 2003 could not be continued. Their interpretation was that when troops told Spirit of America what they needed to help the local people, it was an improper solicitation of gifts which was prohibited by military ethics regulations. It turns out that this gift solicitation issue alone has, for many years, prohibited civilian support for our troops and their humanitarian work in many areas, including Africa, Haiti and Pakistan.

The problem was that there was no legal framework for the kind of support that Spirit of America provides and was proposing with the Commander Support Program. Because of this, military attorneys had to look to existing regulations. And, existing regulations were written for a different era. No one foresaw the kind of innovation and support provided by Spirit of America. We were (and are) true pioneers.

The solution: CCR 27-14 When the military attorneys provided their unfavorable ruling, Spirit of America immediately began to pursue a solution. Within a month we had a pro bono attorney and a meeting with the Department of Defense General Counsel and its head of ethics. Fortunately, they were completely supportive of finding a positive solution. I won't go into all the ensuing twists and turns but Central Command Regulation 27-14 (CCR 27-14) was signed on November 19, 2010. The only reason it happened so quickly is that we were constant advocates for helping and meeting the needs of our troops.

CCR 27-14 provides the legal framework that allows Spirit of America's Commander Support Program and permits the continuation of our traditional operations. On the issue of solicitation of gifts the Regulation makes it clear that troops may identify needs of the local population and temporarily receive donated goods.

The Regulation impacts much more than Spirit of America. It provides a legal framework for any organization that wishes to collaborate with our troops and help them help the local population. CCR 27-14 will lead to more innovation and more support for our troops not only in Afghanistan but anywhere in the world where American troops are engaged in relief, humanitarian and stability operations.

Our first two field representatives Matt Valkovic and Chris Hellie - arrived at the Marines' Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan ten days ago. This represents a new model for how the American people can support our troops serving abroad.

Here are their first two blog posts: Commander Support Program Field Reps in Afghanistan Merry Christmas from Camp Leatherneck

Note: The photos and statements above do not constitute endorsement of Spirit of America by the United States Department of Defense or its personnel.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Camp Leatherneck

Greetings Spirit of America supporters and friends! I'm Matt Valkovic, the other Spirit of America field representative working with the US Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan. My colleague, Chris, and I have been here on Camp Leatherneck for just over a week now. We've been meeting with the great team of Marines and civilians who who are involved with stability operations.

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Spirit of America field rep, Chris Hellie, hard at work on Camp Leatherneck

The Marines are excited we're on the ground and are looking forward to really utilizing Spirit of America's resources and capabilities resources and capabilities that come directly from you: the American people.

We have several interesting and innovative projects in the planning process right now. One of our primary efforts will be supporting the Marines' Female Engagement Teams and their efforts to improve the lives of Afghan women and children. We've already supported the FETs with sewing machines earlier this summer and fall. A new project we hope to facilitate with the FETs will be providing telemedicine training for midwives and basic hygiene instruction. We expect to launch many more of these types of projects that will connect the Marines and the Afghan people with knowledge and expertise otherwise not available to them.

Chris and I are adjusting quite well to Camp Leatherneck. Right now, we sleep in a Quonset-style tent with a colleague from the stability operations team. While we'll be spending the majority of our time here in Helmand visiting the villages and districts with Marine battalions, their civil affairs team and the great civilians from the State Department and the US Agency for International Development who make up the District Stabilization Teams, we'll have place on Leatherneck to store our gear, connect with the headquarters staff and catch up on some rest.

The Spirit of America team back in the US will be posting more photos of Chris and I on our Facebook page in the coming days.

On behalf of Chris, we hope you have a very happy and merry Christmas today.

Please support the Commander Support Program here

Note: The photos and statements above to not constitute endorsement of Spirit of America by the United States Department of Defense or its personnel.

Pajamas Media Interviews Spirit of America Founder-CEO Jim Hake

On December 23, 2010, Spirit of America Founder and CEO Jim Hake sat down for an interview with Danika Quinn from Pajamas Media/PJTV about how he's helping the troops in Afghanistan help the local people there.

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In the interview, Jim shares what inspired him to start Spirit of America and explains how something as simple as a swing set can help bring stability to war torn regions like Afghanistan.
 

You can watch the complete interview here.

Note: The photos and statements above to not constitute endorsement of Spirit of America by the United States Department of Defense or its personnel. 

Holiday Greetings from Afghanistan

Several weeks ago, Spirit of America in partnership with Crocs  sent 300 pairs of shoes valued at $8,497 to a Chaplain serving with Task Force Gambler in Paktika Province, Afghanistan on the eastern border near Pakistan. Crocs generously donated the shoes and SoA funded and coordinated the shipping with contributions to our Afghanistan Fund.

The Chaplain, an Army Captain, sent us a copy of Task Force Gambler's Holiday newsletter which has a great message and a  creative use of Christmas lights!

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"It has been a while since we have published a newsletter, and there is a lot that has happened in the last several months worth writing about. As the task force has gone full throttle into the mis-sion, it has allowed for less opportunity to write. The Soldiers out here are working long hours and have shown great fortitude of spirit especially as we enter into the holiday season of the deployment. Over the last several months the soldiers have worked hard to build up our area and made it into a home. We have a chapel, gym, coffee room and library, soldier store, movie library, and recreational facility. On top of all the recreational establishments are a significant amount work facilities.

During the course of the last several months as the Chaplain for this Unit, I have felt privileged to witness two distinct spirits that further my faith in the goodness of humanity. The first is the spirit of our Sol-diers and the second is the love and faithfulness of those people and organizations at home that support Task Force Gambler.

The spirit of Task Force Gambler can be summed up as not persevering or even defending but as Attack. This encompasses all aspects of our mission and what it means to be a part of Task Force Gambler, this includes building a home, investing in personal wellness, care of family, and the defense of our brothers and sisters in arms to the left and right of us. One example can be seen just outside my office. It is what is known as the Task Force Blog Board and on it soldiers write their thoughts and have written nearly one thousand comments. Some of the comments are meant to inspire humor, others to express frustration in a positive manner, and the rest are to inspire the soul.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, we asked the questions, ‘what are you thankful for' and in the response there is a resounding sense of inspiration, gratitude, and merit. These soldiers work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and some put in even more hours. Task Force soldiers do not spend their time complaining; rather, there is a focus on making life better and a resilience in volunteerism. Many soldiers within this Task Force have volunteeredmuch of their precious time to make life a little better for the greater community.

Over the last several months the American people have shown great support and love for the Soldiers over here in Afghanistan. The outpouring of love and support has been nothing less than a miracle. There are many people at home who support the Soldiers and it is because of these people, many of whom are reading this now that we have been able to develop many of the programs are intended as service of care for the soldiers. One of the Chaplain mottos is, serving those who serve. The reality is that over the course of this deployment to date, my mission would not have been able to have the impact it has if it were not for the American people who truly support this mission. I have been able to serve because America continues to show its love for its Soldiers. On behalf of the Soldiers of Task Force Gambler, thank you, Merry Christmas and God Bless."

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Note: The photos and statements above do not constitute endorsement of Spirit of America by the United States Department of Defense or its personnel.

Commander Support Program Field Representatives in Helmand Province

My name is Chris Hellie and I am the second Spirit of America Field Representative, along with Matt Valkovic, that will be supporting Marines in Helmand Province for the next few months. Like Matt, I am a former Army Captain that served four years active duty as an Infantry Company Executive Officer and Specialty Platoon Leader, with 16 months of those four years in East Anbar and Northern Baghdad Province. I look forward to sharing with you how your donations and time are making a difference for the Marines and the local Afghan people.

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Matt (L) and Chris at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan

After much delay due to weather and other obstacles, the pilot edition of the Commander Support Program is up and running. Matt and I landed at Bastion Airfield at Camp Leatherneck yesterday morning and have already been introduced to the I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Civil Affairs Office (C-9).

Matt and I were able to conduct a couple of meetings with the Marine Female Engagement Team Officer in Charge and the Gender Affairs Officer. Both officers are excited to have the support of Spirit of America and its donors working side-by-side in order to create more and better opportunities for the women of Afghanistan. We also sat in a Civil Affairs staff huddle and were formally introduced to the civil affairs team here at Camp Leatherneck.

We are looking forward to getting out into the districts and villages of Helmand Province in the coming weeks. We'll have more updates in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, you can follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SpiritAmerica and on Twitter at SoA_Chris and SoA_Matt.

Please support the Commander Support Program here

Note: The photos and statements above do not constitute endorsement of Spirit of America by the United States Department of Defense or its personnel.

2 Great Gift Ideas

Greetings friends and supporters,

Gift giving can be tricky. I once gave my mother a vacuum. Really. It was not as well received as I hoped. I've also given soap-on-a-rope and neckties. I think the soap was used but I don't remember seeing the ties again. What to do?

To help you avoid a similar fate, here are 2 ideas for gifts that make a difference, are easy to give and let your friends and loved ones know you are thinking of them.

The Peace Cord  

Give a Peace Cord (buy one for yourself, too). The Peace Cord ($10) is a bracelet made by Afghan women from parachute cord and the same buttons used on military uniforms. Buying one provides jobs and income for Afghan women. 50% of the profits from Peace Cord sales will go to Spirit of America, so giving one also helps our troops in Afghanistan.

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Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund Holiday Card
The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund is a great organization that helps injured Marines. You can send a beautiful holiday card to your friends, family or co-workers when you make a donation to the Fund. Here is how to do it.

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Whether you celebrated Hanukkah or are about to celebrate Christmas, we wish you and your loved ones joy-filled holidays.

Jim Hake and Spirit of America team.


No endorsement of Spirit of America by the US Department of Defense or its personnel is intended or implied.