The NoVa American Legion Riders Escort National Commander, Clarence Hill; Target Official, Carl Campbell and Undersecretary of Defense, Gary Motsek, to Legion Post 28 in Triangle, Va. Representatives of The American Legion, Target Corp., and Computer Science Corp. met in northern Virginia October 29 for the final U.S. leg of a nationwide drive to put smiles on the faces of 56 soldiers who were forced to destroy all their possessions when enemy insurgents attacked them in Afghanistan.

    “This is extraordinary,” said Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense Gary J. Mostek, as DVDs, video games, laptop computers, cameras, memory cards, books, magazines and other items were sorted at American Legion Post 28 in Triangle, Va. “Coming so close to Veterans Day, it really shows the strength of the bond among comrades in arms. There are no politics here.”

    The goods, soon to be shipped overseas to troops who survived the deadly Oct. 3 attack on Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan, were purchased after more than $50,000 was raised in cash donations through an American Legion blog site, The Burn Pit. Target Corp. matched the donations with another $50,000 in merchandise and gift cards. Computer Science Corp. of Connecticut (CSC) chipped in with 56 laptop computers.

    Soldiers from Bravo Troop 3-61 Cavalry from Fort Carson, Colo., became surrounded at COP Keating by enemy forces in the rugged Nuristan province of Afghanistan Eight U.S. soldiers and two Afghani troops were killed when the militant force – estimated at 300 fighters – attacked. The soldiers were forced to call in an air strike on their own position that destroyed all their personal possessions.

    Most of the 56 survivors left the region with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and their weapons. Lost were all their personal items, including computers, cameras, books, video games and other comfort items that brought some respite from the war.

    Soon after the attack, one of the soldiers e-mailed The American Legion and expressed concern that no one at home knew what they were doing there and that no one really cared. The soldier’s words were posted on The Burn Pit (www.burnpit.legion.org), and the Legion’s COP Keating Relief Fund was born. In less than a week, more than $50,000 poured in. CSC offered the laptop computers, Target matched the $50,000 with gift cards and merchandise, and Legionnaires in three cities rallied to the cause. The Legion worked with Veterans of Valor, a nonprofit organization founded by a combat-wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, to purchase iPods for the troops, as well.

    Legionnaires in Colorado Springs (near Fort Carson) and Minneapolis (near Target corporate headquarters) drew major regional media coverage when they appeared at Target stores, escorted by Legion Riders, to buy merchandise for the troops. Customers and employees applauded and cheered the effort.

    Finally, in Virginia on October 29, American Legion National Commander Clarence Hill, members of Post 28 and local Target store manager Carl Campbell, a Marine Corps veteran, acknowledged the collaborative effort and the importance of showing deployed troops that they, indeed, have support on the home front.

    No additional contributions are needed for the COP Keating Relief Fund. Those who wish to donate to soldiers in need are urged to give to The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (http://www.legion.org/whatsnew/campaigns) instead, which purchases comfort items for U.S. soldiers recovering from wounds and illnesses at military hospitals around the world.