Pamela Bates worried about getting depressed after her husband shipped out to Kuwait for the possible war with Iraq.
Her solution was a project that keeps her busy 16 hours a day and lifts the spirits of thousands of soldiers living in tent cities in the Kuwaiti desert.
Her Adopt-A-Soldier Web site - Hugs to Kuwait - was originally intended to serve only members of her husband's unit, the First Battalion of the 10th Artillery Regiment from Fort Benning. But the overwhelming response from soldiers, military families and other supporters led her to expand it to all branches of the military and even to a British unit.
"I don't have a guarantee that my husband will return," she said. "I pray for his safety and I have to support those who watch his back everyday."
Bates launched the Web site on Jan. 4, two days before her husband, Sgt. Daniel Bates, boarded a plane for the Middle East. He is an artilleryman in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which would likely take the lead in an invasion of Iraq.
So far Bates has arranged the adoption of more than 9,800 troops, and 18,000 people from every state and 11 countries have applied. She and a group of volunteers screen the applicants and then link them with troops who agree to be adopted.
Mitch Dunn, a disabled Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Sandy, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, have adopted two sailors aboard the USS Constellation, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf region, and three soldiers from Sgt. Bates' battalion.
"Every letter I write, I say, 'I hope the good Lord brings you home safely,"' said Dunn, who was wounded in Vietnam while serving aboard a Navy river patrol boat. "You know those kids have to be scared. If you're not scared, there's something wrong with you.
"It really means a lot to get support from people back home," he said.
Sandy Dunn has become one of the four assistant managers who help with Hugs to Kuwait, which has also linked churches, civic groups, scout troops and veterans' organizations with the troops who soon may face combat.
"I was determined that I was going to do something for the guys in his unit," said Bates. "It never was supposed to get this big."
Her Web site also offers chat rooms that provide support for military spouses, tips on what to include in care packages for soldiers and soldiers' pictures from the desert.
It has a link to another group, Operation Military Pride, which works to boost the moral of troops based overseas through cards, letters and care packages. Operation Military Pride plans a Washington rally on Armed Forces Day, May 17, to show support for the military.
"We've created a community, and it's been a godsend for me," said Bates, who has two teenagers. "I don't sit around feeling sorry for myself. As a spouse, you can get the blahs when your husband is deployed. You don't want to get out of bed."
She runs the Web site from a laptop while seated on a sofa in the living room of her home in a military housing development. She receives more than 100 e-mails a day and her coffee table is piled high with printouts. She also gets a flood of regular mail from people who want to apply, or to offer their thanks and support.
"When I get down in the dumps, I read the letters that people send to me thanking me for setting up the program, and it always picks me back up," she said. "I support my husband 100 percent and what the military does, 150 percent. I have to be strong for him and for my kids."
Bates, who had little experience with Web sites, built the site on her own.
"We're home. We feel safe and comfortable with our families and friends," Bates said. "They don't have that. What they are doing is what they have been ordered to do, what they took an oath to do. If we can make one soldier smile, then we're happy."
By Elliott Minor
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