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March 28, 2003 / The Tampa Tribune

Groups Falls In To Help Reservists' Children
by Susan H. Thompson

TAMPA - A week after Tampa employees of a pharmaceutical company started a charity for children of military reservists, their mission suddenly became personal.

One of their managers, Daniel (whose last name isn't being disclosed for security reasons), was called up for Army Reserve duty. He left behind the firm's sunny office near Courtney Campbell Parkway, his wife and two children for war in Iraq.

Employees at AstraZeneca's Tampa business center have adopted the unit in which Daniel now serves, the 32nd Transportation Unit, based in Tampa.

They plan to assist children in families that are struggling because Mom or Dad lost civilian pay after deployment.

Their newly formed charity, called Operation Brave Kids, will send $25 gift certificates to children each month to buy such items as groceries, sports gear and clothes.

``We know that there are 80 [or so] children of parents called up to service'' in the 32nd, said Monty Murray, a Tampa business

But more children can be helped if the charity grows, he said.

The group is seeking private and corporate donations. For example, a donation of $300 would sponsor a child for 12 months, Murray said.

The Tampa Operation Brave Kids is modeled after a similar chapter in Miami that was recently started by Vietnam veteran John Ghee. Ghee was concerned about children of the hundreds of South Florida troops who were leaving for Iraq.

``He remembered that when he went off to Vietnam, he told his children, `Be brave, I'll be back,' '' Murray said.

Ghee's concern was over the fact that some families see drastic drops in income when a mother or father is deployed. Companies are required by U.S. law to keep jobs open for employees on military duty, but they don't have to continue paying salaries or benefits.

AstraZeneca plans to keep paying its manager, who's on duty with the 32nd Transportation Unit for at least a year. Others aren't so lucky. Some reservists must rely solely on lower military salaries.

``One fellow's company gave them three months to seek other benefits,'' said Tina, whose husband is in the 32nd Transportation Unit.

``These are children who obviously need their pediatrician, their dental and everything has to change in three months.''

She also is worried about the extended family of a young soldier who helps support his brother's children.

``He's only 20 or 21 and he lives with his mom and dad. Between him and his parents, they are raising four grandchildren,'' Tina said.

Organizers of Operation Brave Kids say that even small amounts will help.

``Twenty-five dollars does not sound like a lot, but for a mom with three kids, $75 toward groceries will really mean a lot,'' says Doug McNamee, who works for AstraZeneca and helped found Operation Brave Kids.

In South Florida, the Operation Brave Kids chapter has received calls from reservists' families saying they wouldn't have asked for help, but the monthly gifts met a need.

The MacDill Family Resource Center in Brandon, a service center for military dependents, will direct families that request help to Operation Brave Kids.

Every dollar collected will go to children, Murray said. To protect the safety of military families, donors and children won't be matched.

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