Sunday, February 15, 2004
By Eric Veronikis
In less than two years, the Web site created by Kyle Lord of Fleetwood has grown by leaps and bounds.
She did not go into the venture looking to obtain credit card numbers from visitors, and she still does not today.
Keystonesoldiers.com is purely an effort to support American troops deployed overseas.
The idea to establish an effective outlet to strengthen ties between soldiers and their loved ones hit home when Lord’s son was placed on active duty.
Brent J. Lord was a member of the 1st 213th National Guard Air Defense Artillery unit based out of Hamburg.
When the Hamburg unit left for Germany in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in July of 2002, Lord found out just how difficult it is to stay in touch with soldiers overseas.
“ Communication was terrible,” Lord explained. “Phone calls to Germany were a dollar per minute. So one night when I went to a family support group meeting, I began thinking of ways to make communication easier.”
Following the meeting, Lord went straight to work on the site that allowed soldiers, family and friends from Pennsylvania to post pictures and write letters to each other via the Internet.
“ There were a lot of Pennsylvania soldiers in Germany at the time,” Lord said. “There were 2,500 soldiers from Pennsylvania stationed at 12 different places in Germany.”
Immediately, the Web site was a success, and not long after, Lord opened the site to others throughout the nation.
“ Our guys came home at the end of February, 2003, but we knew terrorism was running high in Iraq,” Lord said. “We were glad and grateful our family members were home, but realized there was still a need for our Web site and then the war broke out.”
The numbers kept growing. In the first few weeks keystonesoldiers.com featured approximately 47 soldiers using the pen pal service alone, and today, there are over 3,000 correspondence partners.
But there is much more to the site than just pen-pal service. In fact, the various programs offered reach countless numbers of soldiers.
“ We decided we were going to do more and more fundraisers because we had more and more people e-mailing to see how they could support the soldiers,” Lord said. “And another site, anysoldier.com shut down. So we began asking people to send cards, letters and care packages. And the fundraising is used to cover the shipping costs.”
Lord began enlisting friends and family to help put together Avon sales, spaghetti dinners and candle sales to support the overwhelming cost connected to the shipment of items.
Every package and letter is sent directly through Lord in Fleetwood, who monitors each and every item.
She also requires anyone interested in becoming a pen-pal to explain why they would like to keep in touch with a soldier.
“ I make sure they give me their name, mailing address, phone number and a written paragraph as to why they want to be a pen-pal. And then I verify that information,” Lord said.
The concerned go-between person said she keeps all names and related information confidential, but for safety purposes and to avoid letters from people denouncing the efforts of American soldiers, she monitors all correspondence and packages.
But there have been few scathing letters so far, and Lord cannot believe how many people have pitched in to help.
“ We had 5,000 postcards sent from a high school in Colorado and over Christmas we sent over 22,000 cards,” Lord said. “We have sent over 650 care packages and one girl in in Texas sent over 3,000 cards alone.”
The packages pile up in her living room and supporting the troops in this fashion takes an extreme amount of time and devotion, but Lord said she hopes to continue to donate her time as long as there is a need.
Keystonesoldiers.com is also forming an alliance with another site, www.soldiersangels.com, in support of Albany, N.Y., resident Dan Forant Jr.’s cross country “Freedom ride to Support our Troops.”
Forant’s son, Dan III, is currently stationed in Iraq, and the concerned father decided to ride a bicycle across the country from Albany to to Sacramento, Calif., set to begin on March 1.
“ He was looking in his garage and saw the bike his son used to ride and realized this would be a good way to bring the focus on individual soldiers,” Lord explained. “This is not a matter of for or against the war. This is about supporting our family, friends and relations in the military.”
Forant’s goal is to raise $50,000. Lord said his trip will include stops at Ground Zero and he will pass through parts of Oley and Reading.
“ We are asking people to give one cent per every 13 miles to propel Dan across the country,” Lord said. “That is $20, and we will accept less or more. We are also asking people to come out and ride next to Dan for part of the trip or line the streets when he passes through to cheer him on.”
Lord expects Dan to peddle through Berks County on March 4 or 5 and while he is in town he will spend the night with the family of 16-year-old singer/songwriter Catherine Hughes of Oley, who recorded a special song for American troops.
“ Catherine has a 10-song cd that has a song dedicated to the troops called Coming Home. If a person buys a cd then another personally-signed cd is sent to a soldier,” Lord said. “And all other funds raised through the Web sites goes directly to our troops.”
Anyone wishing to support Forant’s ride can visit keystonesoldiers.com, soldiersangels.com and click on the paylink on the home page.
Direct donations in support of keystonesoldiers.com can be made on the Web site or send checks, letters and care package items to PO Box 152, Fleetwood, Pa., 19522-0152. For more information, call Lord at 610-944-6328.Iraq War News