A South Carolina-based troop-support group and a national restaurant chain have teamed up to see that at least 500,000 servicemembers get a note of thanks this holiday season.
Nearly 500 Golden Corral restaurants across the country are offering patrons the chance to pen a note of thanks to servicemembers through Nov. 15. The non-profit group Operation Thank You will include all the cards the program generates in holiday care packages for deployed troops, said Brian Bohlman, the organization's founder and a captain in the South Carolina Air National Guard.
Operation Thank You is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
"(Golden Corral) saw that we had a goal to send 150,000 cards to our troops," Bohlman, a military chaplain, said. "The said they really didn't want to duplicate what we were doing, but the idea was that they could print up a similar card, a 'thank you' card ... if we would help get those into the hands of our troops during the holidays."
The program began in 2006 when Bohlman was deployed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. He arrived with 5,000 cards of support for the troops.
He placed the cards in public areas where any patient or hospital employee passing by could read them. But one soldier gave Bohlman the inspiration to continue collecting notes for the troops.
"He stopped me in the hall, and he told me he read through like 100 cards," Bohlman said. "He said it was the best medicine that he had ever received."
That was all the encouragement the chaplain needed. His organization decided 150,000 cards would just about cover troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as some of the military hospitals, he said.
"Out of our inventory, we're about halfway there," Bohlman said. "We have some big events coming up in the next few months so we hope to have our batch of 150,000 finished, but if not, Golden Corral's definitely helping us go over the top."
It appears that not only will Golden Corral reach its goal of 500,000 cards collected from diners, it may exceed the goal. Bohlman said some of the restaurants are reporting they're almost out of the cards, which can be dropped into a box as customers leave the store.
"Some people, because it's designed like a post card, ... just take it home, put a stamp on it and just drop it in the mail," he said.
The restaurant is strongly encouraging its customers to drop them in the boxes, however. "They actually want to have an opportunity to proofread them before they get to me," Bohlman said.
Golden Corral also is conducting its seventh annual Military Appreciation Monday on Nov. 12. On this day, all 485 restaurants will offer a free "thank you" dinner buffet and beverage to any person who has served in the U.S. military.
A new component of this year's event is an essay contest open to anyone who has served or has a parent who has served in the military. Essays of 1,000 words or less should explain why the entrant is proud of their service or that of their parents. Three prizes, starting at $1,000, will be awarded to further the winners' educations.
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service