March 1, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Caroline Applegate and 14 of her fellow Orangeburg 4-H club members wanted to find a way to communicate their support to U.S. military troops in the Middle East.

Together with their 4-H leaders, club members discovered a program based in North Carolina called "Friends of our Troops." The program started in 1965 to support troops serving in Vietnam with letters from folks back home and boasts more than one million pieces of mail to U.S. troops since that time. Originally, the program was called Vietnam Mail Call.

4-Hers decorate boxes to send troop letters.

"The club members wanted a way to make a difference in the lives of our troops," said Angie Mitchell, Extension 4-H program assistant in Mason County. "They started writing letters during club meetings and at home to communicate their feelings about our country's military involvement abroad."

And with all the talk of war right now, Mitchell said youth have concerns and need an outlet to express their feelings. She said all 4-H clubs try to find projects that will enhance their knowledge and experience in citizenship because the projects instill a sense of duty to the local community, to Kentucky and to the United States.

Because the military cannot give out information about the exact locations of troops, 4-Hers write letters and put them in decorative envelopes and boxes and then send them to Friends of Our Troops for distribution to military personnel.

"Some of the troops serving over there don't have anyone to write to back home, so we decided to write to them," said Applegate, a 12-year-old 4-Her who also shows lambs and does a feeder calf project. "I hope we get responses and maybe even become pen pals."

Currently the Orangeburg club is the only 4-H club participating in the program, but Mitchell feels like it is something that other clubs should think about since it really makes an impact on the troops.

"By receiving these letters, the troops learn about our youth and their feelings about military efforts," she said. "It also lets them know that, even though we don't know them personally, we are concerned about their safety and well-being. We are thinking about them."

Applegate hopes when other 4-H clubs hear about their project, they will want to get involved. She said her club leader encouraged them to continue writing letters on their own at home even though the initial phase of the project is complete.

If any other 4-H group is interested in participating in a letter-writing campaign, they can visit the Friends of Our Troops web site at or write to them at: P.O. Box 65408, Fayetteville, NC 28306-5408. Friends of Our Troops also is actively seeking the names and address of troops who would like to receive mail. If you have a family member who is serving in the military, you may send the information to the address or web site listed above.



Angie Mitchell  606-564-6808