As Congress tries to devise a US exit strategy from Iraq, perhaps no words will be used more often in the debate than the expression seen on millions of yellow-ribbon car magnets: "Support our troops." It is a phrase in danger of losing its meaning.
Ever since the 2003 US invasion, those simple words – which play to a longstanding patriotic sentiment toward those in uniform – has taken on a political warp, often used manipulatively to justify various options for the war.
For many Americans, the phrase still evokes heartfelt compassion toward US soldiers and their families – no matter what their views about Iraq. That generosity of spirit is more than a tailgate slogan. It has been expressed in a huge outpouring of care packages and personal gestures for military personnel, whether they be in Iraq or trying to resume their lives back home.
And it has spawned hundreds of organized efforts, from the neighborhood to the national, for giving to overseas troops. Just read a local paper or search the web to find such names as Operation Gratitude, Operation Shoebox, or Operation Mom ("operation" being the operating word). The Pentagon itself keeps a website to assist others in supporting the troops (americasupportsyou.mil).
The gifts for GIs range from body armor to phone cards, from free video calls to free tax service, from cookies to posttraumatic counseling, from pet care to prayer.
The most appreciated item, however, may still be an old-fashioned, handwritten letter.
No matter what the gift, the basic message is gratitude for self-sacrifice. This week, for instance, Utah observed "Thank a Soldier Day."