Angels of Mercy Program Press Articles

Copies of "Thank You" Notes Coming Soon

Angels in Our Midst
Connection Newspapers
By Donna Manz
May 23, 2007



When Vienna residents Marian Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, walked into Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2003 as Red Cross volunteers, they did not imagine the new direction their lives were about to take. They saw that the Walter Reed medical staff was committed to the physical needs of injured soldiers, but there was little emotional and material support available to the wounded and their families during recovery.

From this realization grew an award-winning program of giving and sharing of time and goods, Angels of Mercy, its arms stretching across the country and into Iraq and Afganistan. It began with Chirichella, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 of McLean, in 2003, who joined with Edwards, a retired naval officer, to provide a supplemental service to wounded troops under care at Walter Reed.

"We constantly have our ears to the ground, identifying current needs and projected needs," said Chirichella. "We visit with the wounded every Wednesday at Walter Reed hospital, talking with the soldiers, asking each if theres anything we can bring or do. We attend to the needs at Fisher Houses as well ... stocking refrigerators, picking up diapers for the babies of the affected families, doing whatever we can to make their stay at Walter Reed more comfortable."

The Angels of Mercy program has garnered local and national praise, winning Paul Newmans "Newmans Own" national award as the best program in the nation "Supporting Active Duty Military and Their Families," in 2004. The organization was honored again by "Newmans Own" in 2005 and 2006 as one of the top volunteer programs in this field. The recognition from the award and the publicity generated by the efforts of the Angels of Mercy have resulted in thousands of dollars in contributions that advance the mission of the program, which is to support the nations wounded soldiers and their families.

"THE AVERAGE AGE of the wounded here is 23 years old," said Edwards, commander of American Legion Post 270 of McLean. "Some have young wives and children. It brings out a lot of pride to see these young people who put their lives on the line and how they deal with their injuries.

"Marian and I retired to work eight days a week, and its so rewarding. Weve contributed clothing, CDs, videos, reading matter, snacks ... we listen if they want to talk, we track down requested things. In 2004, we turned our attention to the needs of the families staying at Fisher Houses, as well. The response from the public has been incredible."

This May, Edwards was awarded the 2007 Fairfax County Service Award for Community Leadership, and Chirichella, Fairfax Countys Senior Volunteer award in 2006.

The Angels of Mercy program is based out of the American Legion Post 270 of McLean, and its members, as well as those of the Auxiliary, wrap hundreds of packages and gifts for distribution at Walter Reed and beyond. Angels in Iraq, launched in 2005, ships requested goods to Combat Support Hospitals and remote military locations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Responding to the long-term needs of discharged military, Edwards and Chirichella created the No Soldier Left in Need project, working closely with the Department of Defense.

Tuesdays are spent at Costco where Edwards buys food and dry goods; meanwhile. Chirichella is tracking down special requests from the recovering military and their families. Wednesday morning, Edwards and Chirichella drop off their purchases at Fisher Houses before heading off to their day at Walter Reeds medical center, visiting with patients.

Edwards and Chirichella have made contact with more than 5,000 patients at Walter Reed since they began volunteering there four years ago, and they have stayed in touch with some of the patients since they left the hospital.

"Its a human thing," said Edwards, "learning what they need emotionally and materially. The reunions between wounded and family are very emotional. We dont let ourselves be brought-down; what we see would never stop us from going on. "Its gratifying to know youre helping, to see the results of what you do."

EDWARDS BROUGHT out this years most sought-after football jersey, the Ward 57 T-shirt. Ward 57 is home to the wars amputees, recovering at Walter Reed, and Edwards, impressed by their enduring spirit, thought they deserved to be a fraternal "football" team.

"Its the people themselves at Walter Reed that drive us," said Chirichella. "The more people we meet here, the more help we want to give. To see the strength and commitment of the wounded and their families, to feel we have an impact on their recovery, energizes us."

"Marian has so much vitality and is so organized," said fellow Auxiliary member Garnette Dupont. "She really got the Angels of Mercy program off the ground. She and Jay devote so much time and effort to it; its wonderful the way they promoted this program. They have brought a great amount of very positive attention to the post. They deserve all the recognition they get."

When soldiers at Walter Reed told Edwards and Chirichella that children in Iraq needed clothes, it spurred the two to action, said Dupont. They organized a childrens clothing drive and bags and bags of childrens clothes were shipped to Iraq shortly thereafter.

The Legion and Auxiliary of Post 270 sponsor programs for school students and are developing means to communicate these programs more effectively to the public. Post 270 sponsors high school students to (Virginia) Boys State and Girls State every year. The oratorical competition offers monetary prizes, with the local winner advancing to the next level. At the Post 270 facility, the members work in cooperation with both McLean High School and Langley High School in a program for learning-disabled students, teaching them appropriate job skills.

RIGHT NOW, Edwards, Chirichella, Post 270 and its Auxiliary have planned a Memorial Day commemoration to be presented at McLean High School on Monday, May 28, at 12:30 p.m. A bagpiper from the school will play Amazing Grace and a bugler, Taps. The Posts World War II veterans will be singled out and honored, and outgoing delegate and Post 270 member Vince Callahan will deliver his customary "In Flanders Fields."

"I cant say enough about the good things Marian and Jay do," said Rita Christopher, vice president of the Auxiliary. "They really look into the needs of the wounded and their families. At Christmastime, they bring gifts and arrange for a chorus to sing Christmas songs. The people at Walter Reed are so grateful for what they do. Its unbelievable.

"Marian and Jay love what theyre doing. They truly are angels of mercy."

'Angels of Mercy' Program Helps Combat Casualties, Families
By Rudi Williams / American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2004


WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2004  After accepting the first place 2004 Newman's Own Award during ceremonies in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes on Aug. 24, Marian T. Chirichella told the audience that she considers the award "a tribute to all the volunteer organizations who have supported our active duty military."
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Marian Chirichella, who won first place in the Newman's Own Awards competition along with her husband, Jay Edwards, said the "Angels of Mercy" program at American Legion Post 270 in McLean, Va., would continue as long as there are wounded or injured servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Her comments came during the awards presentation ceremony in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes on Aug. 24. Photo by Rudi Williams

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The program, "Angels of Mercy," garnered the top grant of $10,000 in this year's competition. "Angels" is sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean, Va., and was launched in November by Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, auxiliary member and legionnaire, respectively. It's geared toward improving the quality of life of wounded and injured combatants from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.

Chirichella said she and her husband were inspired to do something to help servicemembers returning from the battlefields and their families after being told combat casualties coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan had few, if any, personal belongings returning with them.

"To confirm, we paid a visit to the Red Cross station manager at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and learned that our young heroes were in need of civilian clothing and personal comfort items," said the mother of three daughters.

"Wanting to serve the military whose lives will be forever changed, Jay and I became Red Cross-trained and medically approved volunteers," Chirichella said. "We go bedside one day a week, delivering items from the Red Cross cart.

"But more importantly," she continued, "we're the face of America and express the gratitude all Americans feel for what these brave young men and women have given up for you and for me. Our wounded epitomize the adage 'freedom is not free!'"

The couple visits 40 to 50 patients and 25 to 30 family members every week at the medical center, the on-campus Mologne House Hotel and the three nearby Fisher Houses. They estimate that they've helped more than 500 wounded or injured servicemembers at the hospital, or through special events like the Christmas brunch and Super Bowl party.

When they visit the hospital wards, Chirichella and Edwards pass out such items as exercise shorts, pocket T-shirts, boxer shorts, tear-away pants, wheelchair and weight-lifting gloves, ankle-high socks and season-specific items. They also pass out things like phone cards, compact disc players, popular CDs, hand- held games, portable radios, disposable cameras and electric razors.

Every week, Chirichella shops for food and personally cooks meals for the wounded and injured servicemembers' families living at the Fisher Houses at Walter Reed.

While at the Fisher Houses, the couple go to the wives and families and take special requests for items that will enhance the quality of life of the families as they support their wounded or injured loved ones.

Chirichella, the American Legion Department of Virginia Auxiliary Member of the Year, will represent Virginia at the National American Legion and Auxiliary convention in Nashville, Tenn., in late August.

She said over the past nine months, she and her husband have found that as soon community members find out about the plight of returning combat casualties, they want to help. For example, Angels of Mercy receives assistance from private citizens, service organizations, and church groups. Local chambers of commerce, Boy and Girl Scouts, and Sunday school classes also contribute, she said.

"An article in a New York newspaper spurred two very successful campaigns --- a motorcycle group conducted a ride for the soldiers and a unified American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and service organizations held a rally for the troops," Chirichella noted. "They received donations of clothing, games, electronic equipment, personal items and financial support still coming in from those endeavors."

Angels of Mercy received nationwide support after Edwards launched an e-mail campaign alerting American Legion posts and auxiliary units across the country to the needs of wounded and injured combat veterans at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Chirichella said Legion posts and auxiliary units in 23 states across the country "from Alaska to Florida and California to New Hampshire" have provided supported.

"Requests to distribute unique items have arrived at our door like teddy bears from California and comfort pillows from Oregon," she said. "And from a very special group unable to make a tangible donation the troops continuously receive their fervent prayers.

"We're always on the lookout for other ways to provide comfort to our young heroes who make Walter Reed and the Naval Medical Center their home away from home for the many months it takes to rehabilitate and prepare for their return to military or civilian life," Chirichella said.

She emphasized that the program will continue as long as wounded and injured servicemembers from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom sand their families need support.

Related Articles:
Volunteer Groups Earn Newman's Own Awards for Military Support

Click photo for screen-resolution image Kenneth Fisher, chairman of the Fisher House Foundation, left, chats with first-place winners in the Newman's Own Award competition, Marian Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, of American Legion Post 270 of McLean, Va., during an awards ceremony Aug. 24 in the Pentagon. The couple founded the award-winning program, "Angels of Mercy," to support wounded servicemembers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Lend a Hand to Your Troops

This story appeared in the December 25, 2006 print edition of
U.S. News & World Report.


By Alex Kingsbury
Posted 12/17/06

Rookie volunteers Jay Edwards and Marian Chirichella walked into Ward 57 of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2003 expecting assignments like "passing out socks." But what they saw inside the Army amputee ward changed their lives. "A young girl was sitting with her father, rubbing what was left of his legs and saying, 'He's still my Daddy,'" recalls Edwards.

The couple were so struck by the paucity of services for vets and their families that they quit their day jobs (as a computer consultant and market researcher, respectively) and launched their own crusade. Now, they deliver groceries weekly and provide clothing and comfort items to wounded soldiers.

During past wars, more American families had someone in the service. Now, there are fewer young men and women in uniform, and the burden of wounded troops rests on fewer shoulders. Add to the Iraq legacy the aging veterans from past wars, and the need becomes acute.

What to do? You can help in myriad ways. The Fisher House Foundation builds homes--35 around the world so far--for wounded veterans. Groups like the USO and the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes organize entertainment events and provide monetary and housing assistance to military families. And there are countless community groups; in some cases, local newspaper notices solicit helping hands.

"All kinds of donations are welcome; anyone can now donate their unused frequent flier miles to military families, who regularly incur debts traveling to see loved ones," says Jim Weiskopf, a spokesman for the Fisher House Foundation.

Traditional groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars help soldiers still in the field, donating VCRs and DVD players and distributing phone cards to veterans' families. Disabled American Veterans has some 10,000 volunteers driving elderly veterans to their medical appointments. If you want to help veterans, Edward Hartman of Disabled American Veterans suggests contacting your local Veterans Administration facility. And not just over the holidays. "These guys are wounded all year long," says Jay Edwards. "Make sure that you are giving whenever you can."


Walter Reeds finest sports morale T-shirts

2nd Lt. Steve Wood gives Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice one of Ward 57s T-shirts of morale.

Note: Angels of Mercy Program donated these T-shirts to Ward 57

 Thursday, January 11, 2007
By Matt Mientka
Stripe staff writer
NB: Stripe is Walter Reed Army Medical Center's internal newspaper

Known as one of Walter Reeds finest, Ward 57 continues to garner a reputation for excellence in orthopaedics not only here but in the civilian medical community.

The prestige of working for the Armys topnotch orthopaedics unit motivated 2nd Lt. Steve Wood, a former submariner and scuba diver with the Navy, to leave his civilian nursing job downtown here to enlist in the Army.

Though Wood considered rejoining the Navy, the Army effectively guaranteed him a spot working in the National Capital Region  with patients returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When I first took the job, I thought there was a real possibility that it would be a down job, that it could be very depressing seeing these guys, Wood told Stripe this week. But the main reason I come to work in the morning is to work with these patients  and their spirits are so high.

Surprised by relatively high morale among troops returning stateside with shattered bones, missing limbs and other injuries, Wood brainstormed with former colleague 1st Lt. Kevin Jones about how staff members might otherwise match that morale.

Leaving a Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field last fall, they decided to brand Ward 57 with football-style T-shirts for patients and staff members.

The T-shirts soon became a hit as troops wore them to physical therapy and Wood posed with the shirts with visiting VIPs such as Secretaries of Defense and State, Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice.

However pedestrian, the T-shirts represent a real bond between staff members and patients, servicemembers and civilians on Ward 57. Composed with an equal mix of troops and civilians, Walter Reed draws from the extensive experience of civilian nurses and technicians but benefits also in a different way from its Army care providers.

On the military end, Soldiers caring for Soldiers, theres a certain bond there that is extremely therapeutic because we can put ourselves in their place and I think thats very helpful for these men and women, Wood said.

Yet, the entire staff is topnotch, Wood said. We really work as a team with these Soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though known previously for excellence, Ward 57 became more important to Army medicine following 9⁄ll and the outbreak of war, when the Army transferred the unit into its amputee center. At any time, the unit serves a couple of dozen patients, 95 percent of whom have recently returned from battle  often with shattering, life-changing injuries.

Surprised by the high morale of injured patients and those who work with them, Wood takes any opportunity to talk orthopaedics and to push the T-shirts, which are given to patients but are also available to others for $10. The T-shirts, subsidized by a corporate gift, represent just one gesture the civilian community has made to support the troops at Walter Reed, he said.

Tending to God's Little Miracle Garden

American Legion Auxiliary National News - May/June 2006


America Supports You:
'Angels in Iraq' Provide Comfort Items

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2005  When the founders of "Angels of Mercy" heard that wounded, injured and sick servicemembers being treated in combat support hospitals in Iraq needed health and comfort items, they created "Angels in Iraq." They sprang into action and launched a nationwide American Legion campaign to let legionnaires and auxiliary members know how they could help America's heroes.

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Jay Edwards and his wife, Marian Chirichella, talk about their efforts to provide health and comfort items to patients in combat support hospitals in Iraq. Photo by Rudi Williams

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The "angels," Jay Edwards and his wife, Marian Chirichella, founded the "Angels of Mercy" program in October 2003 in response to an American Red Cross appeal for help in supporting combat casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. Angels of Mercy has been supporting wounded troops at Walter Reed ever since.

The angels are sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 and American Legion Post 270 of McLean, Va. Edwards is the first vice commander of Post 270. Chirichella is president of Auxiliary Unit 270 and chair of the chapter's veterans affairs and rehabilitation committee.

When they heard of troops in need in combat support hospitals in Baghdad and Fallujah, Iraq, Edwards and Chirichella sent e-mail messages to these facilities asking for a "wish list" of health and comfort items the hospitals needed for their patients. Meanwhile, they contacted state Legion commanders in all 50 states to alert them to the wounded combatants' needs, and Angels in Iraq was born.

The couple is now working to garner assistance from Legion commanders in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, France, Mexico and the Philippines. They also hope to help patients at other combat hospitals in Iraq and those in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

"The response has been terrific from several states," Edwards said.

Edwards also said he wants to help spread the word about DoD's "America Supports You" program, which highlights how Americans support the troops. He said he was struck by an ASY e-mail quoting Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, that said soldiers are questioning whether or not they have the support of the American people.

In a June 25 appearance before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Abizaid said, "I can tell you that when my soldiers ... ask me the question whether or not they've got support from the American people, ... that worries me. And they're starting to do that."

Edwards noted that he and his wife have been volunteering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since the fall of 2003. He estimated they've hugged and shaken hands with more than 2,000 wounded or injured troops and over twice that many family members and friends. "For two years now ... we've been telling ... wounded and injured men and women at Walter Reed that the country does support them," he said. "And we have a lot of examples of what people have done through our program to help them out."

In response to the couple's initial e-mail solicitation, 2nd Lt. Michael J. Pruden of the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad said items casualties are short of include everything from bath towels to flip-flops, and shorts and T-shirts to magazines and back scratchers for patients wearing casts and unable to reach an itch.

After Edwards and Chirichella sent boxes of the items he requested, Pruden wrote back: "We received your packages yesterday. Thanks again for supporting our troops. The posters (American Supports You) and the games are definitely a plus. Shorts and towels are always in demand and we appreciate everything you all have done. Please spread our thanks to all the members of the American Legion."

"We hope that every serviceman and woman knows that America Supports You isn't just a catchy slogan -- it's the feeling of our entire country!" Edwards and Chirichella responded. "While we continue to debate the war, we don't debate about our military. ... You're held in the highest esteem, ... and we're proud of you!"

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Christiansen, of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Expeditionary Medical Group in Fallujah, told the couple her facility is "in constant need of hygiene and clothing items."

"Because of the urgency of our patients' condition, they usually arrive here without these necessities," she wrote. "When our rotation arrived here at the beginning of May, the supplies seemed adequate. However, they have rapidly dwindled, are almost gone, and we're not sure where to find replenishments."

Christiansen sent a "wish list" of health and comfort items for patients, including baby wipes, deodorant, female sanitary items, soap and body wash, sweat pants, t-shirts, socks, sports bras, towels and washcloths. She has since received more than 50 boxes of supplies provided by American Legion posts and auxiliaries across the nation.

"We shared the wish list so that people know what the needs are," Chirichella noted. "With 1,000 patients a month in one hospital, I don't think you can get too many people donating things. If you have duplication, it doesn't much matter because these are all consumable items."

She added that the combat medical facilities are also looking for things like pillow cases, bed sheets, clothing items for women, board games, and snacks -- fruit and nut bars, etc.

Angels of Mercy Program Wins 2004 Newmans Own Award

Volunteer Groups Earn Newman's Own Awards for Military Support

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
August 24, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2004  Sixteen volunteer organizations operating on military installations took home between $1,000 and $10,000 today for presenting an "innovative plan to improve the quality of life for their military community" in the fifth annual Newman's Own Awards competition.

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Award-winning actor and World War II Navy veteran Paul Newman's company, Newman's Own Inc., is the "perfect recycler it earns money and gives it back," said Tom Indoe, the company's chief operating officer. His comment came during a ceremony in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes honoring 16 volunteer organizations with the Newman's Own Award on Aug. 24. Photo by Rudi Williams

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The award was developed to increase awareness of the many private organizations throughout the Defense Department and their volunteers who distinguish themselves through service in their local communities, according to David A. Coker, executive director of Fisher House.

"The award is sponsored by Newman's Own Inc., Fisher House Foundation Inc., and the Military Times Media Group," said Coker, who served as master of ceremonies for the event in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. "These three organizations issued a challenge to all private organizations serving our military communities: Present an innovative plan to improve the quality of life for your military community and receive funding to carry out that plan."

The event was hosted by Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, who assisted in presenting the $50,000 in grants to the winning organizations.

Abell emphasized that this marks the fifth year the three organizations have partnered to make the Newman's Own Award possible. "In the five years, they've donated $225,000 in grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, and 40 separate organizations have received these grants," Abell said.

In addition to the 16 award recipients, the ceremony honored all the private organizations that support the quality of life of military communities and military personnel and their families.

"All of our installations are better because these organizations are out there," Abell said. "This competition recognizes the talent and innovation so many deserving people and organizations bring to our servicemembers."

Abell told the audience that the Newman's Own competition works like the Olympics "There are those who get the gold, but those who don't aren't losers -- they're also participants."

"Each of the organizations recognized here today are committed to our servicemen and women and their families, and that's who the real beneficiaries are," Abell noted. "And that's really what this is all about. As long as we all keep focused on that, I think we're in the right place."

"Newman's Own funding makes this award possible," said Dave Smith, vice president for marketing and business development for the Military Times Media Group, publisher of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times commercial newspapers.

Smith noted that all 64 entries were outstanding, "but this is the best of the best. These are private grassroots organizations coming together to address the need and to make lives better for our servicemembers and their families. There's no more worthy or laudable goal or mission."

The "Newman" in Newman's Own is actor Paul Newman, who uses the company to sell pasta sauces, salad dressings and other products to support worthwhile causes. "It's funny being around Paul, who is 79 years old and is like a wisdom man," said Tom Indoe, chief operating officer of Newman's Own. "He often talks about how circular life is. It's really true when you think about Newman's Own. We sell these products and make profit, and then Paul gives the money back to the community needy and worthwhile causes.

"We're the perfect recycler," Indoe continued. "We earn the money, and we give it back. Since the company was founded, Paul has given over $150 million to different charities and organizations throughout the country and the world."

He pointed out that Newman takes all the profits from the sale of his products in military commissaries and exchanges and gives them to organizations that better the life of the military community.

"So here we are today to honor 16 organizations that do that," Indoe said. "What amazes me when dealing with charitable organizations are the volunteers, whether it's the Habitat for Humanity or camps that deal with kids who struggling with life-threatening diseases. The volunteer folks are there. Without these volunteers and their dedication, these organization couldn't exist," he said.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world," Indoe quoted from Mahatma Gandhi, then adding his own words: "And these volunteers do change the world they make it a better place."

Kenneth Fisher, chairman of the Fisher House Foundation, thanked the Defense Commissary Agency for its commitment to military families through the military children scholarship program.

He then told the surgeons general of each service that the quality of care their medical centers have provided to those wounded or injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom "has been nothing short of world class."

To the 16 Newman's Own Award recipients, Fisher said, "Your effort to improve the military community is what we honor today. This year's competition was a little different. We asked family readiness groups and key volunteers to participate given the unique roles they've worked hard to fulfill.

"We received submissions from 11 groups," he continued. "While none of them were chosen as a recipient for a Newman's Own award, Fisher House would like to recognize their efforts by providing each one of them a $500 grant in support of their units."

The first place $10,000 recipient was "Angels of Mercy," sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 of McLean, Va. The Angels program supports wounded and injured Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom servicemembers and their families. Auxiliary members visit patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in nearby Washington, D.C., at least once a week, bringing them clothing and comfort items, providing home cooked meal to families and hosting special events.

Receiving $5,000 grants was "Camp Flashhh," a free program for children with special needs and their families at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; and the "Lindsay Project," sponsored by the Washington PAVE -- Parents Advocating for Vocational Education -- at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Garnering $4,000 were:

  • "Operation Interdependence," a Fallbrook, Calif., nonprofit organization that streamlines the delivery of packages to deployed service members;
  • "Handy Man Hotline Materials," a part of the Connecticut National Guard Family Program that reduces stressors on families of deployed Guardsmen by having everyday household problems diagnosed and repaired or referred to competent businesses at no cost for the labor;
  • "USA Cares," a Radcliff, Ky., nonprofit organization that works to complement an overburdened network of both information and financial support to servicemen and women and their families while protecting the privacy and dignity of the individual; and
  • "Camp Wonderland," sponsored by the Missouri National Guard Wonderland Foundation, a single one-week camp session for 95 special- needs campers.

"Operation Gratitude," a California National Guard-affiliated nonprofit, all- volunteer organization that sends care packages and letters of support to service members deployed overseas received a $3,000 grant.

Four programs run by three organizations received $2,000 grants:

  • "Glory Boots" and "Pay It Forward," both programs of the Mothers of Military Support of the 81st Armor Brigade, Fort Lewis, Wash.;
  • "United Through Reading," a program sponsored by the Family Literacy Foundation of San Diego, Calif., that facilitates supportive relationships for children through families and friends reading aloud to them; and
  • "Adoptaplatoon," a Kingston, N.H., nonprofit organization that promotes morale-lifting mail, care packages and other support measures to deployed servicemen and women through "platoon moms" and thousands of volunteers.

Five programs received $1,000 grants:

  • "Operation Hero," a program of the San Diego Armed Services YMCA, a free eight-week after-school enrichment program for children of armed services personnel to help them succeed in school and to help them develop self-esteem through counseling from trained social workers and individualized homework assistance;
  • "Family Support Center School Supplies," a program of the Mount Hood, Ore., chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution that works with the children of the activated members of the 939th Air Refueling Wing and 304th Rescue Squadron based at Portland, Ore.;
  • "Missoula Children's Theater" is the nation's largest children's theater program, and the sponsoring organization, the William T. Sampson Elementary School Parent Teachers Organization from the Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba;
  • "Cannon Enlisted Spouses Club," a group of enlisted spouses who share common Air Force bonds like deployments and family separation and adjusting to new places to live, promote fellowship and serve as a resource for others at Cannon Air Force Base;
  • "Andrews Home Educators," a nonprofit support group made up of home school families -- 80 families with 192 children -- who are affiliated with Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

In addition to the monetary awards, the judges selected three organizations for honorable mention: "Cadet for a Day," sponsored by volunteers from the 34th Operations Support Squadron, Air Force Academy, Colo.; "Road Dawg Support," sponsored by the Family Readiness Group of the 846th Transportation Company, a North Carolina Army Reserve unit; "Looking In, Reaching Out," USA Girl Scouts Overseas Pacific.

Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Charles S. Abell
Click photo for screen-resolution image Kenneth Fisher, left, chats with Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, after they assisted in presenting Newman's Own Awards to 16 volunteer organizations during ceremonies in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes on Aug. 24. Fisher is chairman of the Fisher House Foundation, which has built 32 houses on the grounds of every major military medical center and several Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Angels of Mercy, others descend with Super Bowl party
By Rudi Williams / American Forces Press Service
Feb. 7, 2005)

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'Angels of Mercy,' Others Descend With Super Bowl Party  
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Marian Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, pose with the three large sheet cakes their organization, Angels of Mercy, provided for the Super Bowl XXXIX party for servicemembers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House hotel in Washington Feb. 6. The couple launched Angels of Mercy under the sponsorship of American Legion Post 270 Auxiliary Unit in McLean, Va., in November 2003. Chirichella is the auxiliary president; Edwards is vice commander of Post 270. Photo by Rudi Williams


WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2005 - The full-house audience sat transfixed by former Beatle Paul McCartney, belting out the song "Get Back" on the large television screen showing the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime entertainment.

This is a helluva party, isn't it?" one partygoer asked aloud.

"Sure is," another responded, popping his fingers to the beat of the music.

These "party animals" were wounded servicemembers from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families at the Mologne House hotel on the campus of Walter Reed Army Medical Center here Feb. 6.

More than 150 wounded patients and their families gathered to watch the New England Patriots edge the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 to win their third Super Bowl in four years.

Jay Edwards and Marian Chirichella, founders of the Auxiliary Unit's "Angels of Mercy" program at American Legion Post 270 in McLean, Va., came up with this year's party idea, according to Peter Anderson, Mologne House general manager. Co-sponsors were the Wounded Warriors Project, Fairfax (Va.) Harley Owner's Group, United Service Organizations and the National Football League.

Anderson said there was plenty of food, and door prizes included DVD and CD players, and lots of NFL and Harley-Davidson memorabilia. All servicemembers got an NFL cap, T-shirt and a copy of the program sold at the game. Partygoers also received Wounded Warrior T-shirts and a goodie bag from the American Legion Auxiliary. The Angels of Mercy also provided three large sheet cakes decorated with Patriots, Eagles and Super Bowl XXXIX written on them.

Six NFL headquarters representatives also traveled from New York. "We came down here to celebrate the Super Bowl with our soldiers," said Betsy Murphy, NFL benefits coordinator. She said they had visited some patients at the party earlier in the day on their wards.

"It's an honor and privilege to be here on behalf of the commissioner (Paul Tagliabue) and the National Football League. We support these guys; we commend them and their families for their courage and strength," she said. "They truly are America's best."

"Typically, we come for bike shows and have a picnic to get the wounded servicemembers out of the Mologne House," said Larry Larson of the local Harley owner's group. "It was easy for them to stay in the rooms (today), so we thought that bringing the bikes here would encourage them to come out of their rooms.

"We're just appreciative of our country and guys and gals in the military," Larson noted. "I don't think all of us as citizens really appreciate what these men and women do for us. They're the most patriotic people we've ever met. It has been a tremendous experience for us.

"They're saying 'thank you' to us as we're going out the door, and we're the ones saying we couldn't possibility thank them enough," he pointed out.

"There's a great kinship and strong feelings between the members that are veterans coming here and spending time with the soldiers," Larson continued, pointing out that many of the biker group's members are military veterans. "Everybody has his or her own personal reasons for coming. But all of us go away absolutely committed to the soldiers and our country and really appreciative of everything they do for us."

Legionnaire Jay Edwards said, "The main thing we do is to let them know that their country supports them."

One combat-wounded partygoer was Army Pfc. Paul Skarinka, 25, hit by a rocket- propelled grenade in Iraq on Sept. 13 while serving with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He arrived at Walter Reed on Sept. 20.

He called the Super Bowl party "a great thing."

"I love to see this kind of support," he said. "It's a great feeling to know that people out there have our backs and haven't forgotten about us. That's the biggest thing."

His father, Peter Skarinka, who spent four years in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, said the support his son is receiving at Walter Reed is "wonderful."

"People have been great, not only for the Super Bowl, but throughout Paul's hospitalization," said the former Air Force staff sergeant.

Army Sgt. John Keith, Jr., 37, was hit in Iraq while serving as a medic with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, on Nov. 9. The Humvee he was riding in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He arrived at Walter Reed on Nov. 12.

"It's really nice that they put this Super Bowl party together for us," said Keith, a Patriots fan. "We really feel very blessed that we have people that are willing to give their time to help us."


Photo, Caption Below

Marian Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, pose with the three large sheet cakes their organization, Angels of Mercy, provided for the Super Bowl XXXIX party for servicemembers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House hotel in Washington Feb. 6. The couple launched Angels of Mercy under the sponsorship of American Legion Post 270 Auxiliary Unit in McLean, Va., in November 2003. Chirichella is the auxiliary president; Edwards is vice commander of Post 270. Photo by Rudi Williams Download high res image is an official U.S. Department of Defense website.

Older Veterans Provide for New
The American Legion wants to show its suppport for the new veterans.
By Meredith Billman-Mani
December 9, 2004


Rita Christopher spent hours putting together holiday gift boxes at the McLean American Legion Post 270 for soldiers she doesn't know. Her husband is a veteran, so she knows the importance of supporting the troops during wartime. She also knows that next month her son, a surgeon, will be heading off to Iraq.
Post 270 members have been thinking about Christmas for months now. They haven't been dreaming of the gifts theyUd like to receive, but rather what tokens of comfort they can offer to injured soldiers this holiday season.
Marian Chirichella spearheaded Post 270's effort to fill and wrap 150 gift boxes for injured soldiers recovering at Walter Reed hospital. She and a dozen volunteers, including Christopher, gathered at the post this week to create and wrap presents that will be given to the soldiers at a Christmas morning brunch. Items included in the boxes range from disposable cameras and journals to candy and small hand-held games.
Chirichella and her husband have become intimately aware of what this new generation of veterans needs during their numerous weekly visits to the military hospital. "We go bedside and talk to the soldiers each week to see what their needs are. It's ongoing, adapting to their needs," said Chirichella.
"It's a whole collection of things we know the kids consume," said Chirichella. "The phone cards allow them to stay in contact with their friends and family. That connection keeps morale up and enhances their healing."

"WE ARE DOING THIS for the troops so they will have a happy Christmas," said Christopher. Volunteer Betty Quinn said, "Our husbands are veterans. The American Legion wants to show its support for the new veterans. We have the mechanism to support them collectively."
Next on Chirichella's Christmas list is collecting a small cache of toys to be given out to the children of the soldiers convalescing at Walter Reed. "We're doing gifts for the children that stay here while their mom or dad is here. There are even more kids that come visit on Christmas, and we want them to have something that day," said Chirichella.
In the next few days, she will be getting a detailed list that will rival Santa's, giving her information about each child so that a fitting gift can be collected. "If it's a 6-month-old, say, we will get something from Fisher Price," said Chirichella.
Members of Post 270 have generously donated the items to be boxed up and cash to help purchase some additional items. Officials at the Post are hoping this holiday season members of the community will step up and help in their effort by donating toys for the children of the men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's a nice way of saying the entire community cares about you," said Chirichella about the holiday gifts. "It's nice to know that America supports you. This demonstrates that."
As Quinn filled box after box with goodies, she said, "I can't think of anything more important than helping the wounded new veterans or their families."
It's an effort that the Post makes throughout the year, not just during the holidays. Through the Angels of Mercy program, gifts and creature comforts are given to returning veterans throughout the year. The soldiers recovering at Walter Reed often stay there for months. Once their condition is stabilized, they are moved out of the hospital ward and into dormitories within walking distance of rehabilitation and medical services.
Chirichella recently gave out coats and scarves to soldiers who were walking in the cold and rain from their dorms to physical therapy at the hospital. "Angels of Mercy is year-round. That provides clothing and personal items for the soldiers. We also bring clothing and groceries to the families of the soldiers staying at Fisher House [on the Walter Reed campus]. We bring things to as many different niches of where the soldiers are to provide comfort." said Chirichella.
One soldier recently contacted her from Iraq after hearing about Angels of Mercy. As a reservist stationed overseas, he wanted to make sure that his corporation back home donated to that organization because the gift would be used around the year to benefit those serving in the military.
To arrange to donate toys for the children of injured soldiers or to make a monetary donation; contact Marian Chirichella at 703-938-3572 or via e-mail at

Angels of Mercy Praised by Wall Street Journal
The Home Front Comes to Life

America supports the troops--privately, and online.
Friday, November 26, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

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View latest article by Daniel Henninger


The Home Front Comes to Life
America supports the troops--privately, and online.

Friday, November 26, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

At last for the troops fighting the war on terror, there is a home front. There are no victory gardens on this home front, no Rosie the Riveter. It's on the Web.

When this column appeared last Friday--praising the high quality of the modern American soldier and knocking the government for not rallying the home front--an official called from the Defense Department to draw attention to precisely such an effort. Better late than never.

The Defense Department has created a space on its Web site called "America Supports You." But once you click onto this link, you notice that the government itself isn't behind the creation of this home front. The DoD Web site collects in one place a partial listing of groups that have sprung to life all over the country to help the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the past year, I've chastised the government for not giving the American people some official way to show support for the troops. I see now that this was a wholly misguided thought. Support for the U.S. soldiers fighting the war on terror is coming together in a traditional American way--as spontaneous, private, voluntary pro-soldier groups of like-minded citizens. This is the real American home front in the war on terror. It properly has little to do with Homeland Security, Defense, the White House or any other part of the government.

The groups have names like Adopt a Platoon, Homes for Our Troops, Soldiers Angels, Operation Mom and Operation Gratitude. The larger, traditional organizations are also there--the VFW, the American Legion and the USO. The Intrepid Museum Foundation, which runs the famous battleship site in Manhattan, has a strong program called the Fallen Heroes Fund.

Some of the Web sites have put up snapshots and letters home from the troops, bringing the group's members "closer" than what is available elsewhere to the young soldiers and the triumphs, goals and fears of daily life in this war. The USO site has photos up of a visit last week to the troops in Kuwait from actors James Gandolfini and Tony Sirico of "The Sopranos." Good goin'.

This is the first home front of self-organized citizen support we've had for men and women under arms since World War II (the troops in Vietnam had its direct opposite). This one is different. During the War, Hollywood filmmakers made movies and shorts to sustain morale during war, something disallowed now by Hollywood's deep antipathy toward this war's supporters. As to journalism, the Ernie Pyle style of war reporting is dead, replaced by something closer to World War I's "All Quiet on the Western Front." But around the Web, one can find remarkable accounts of traditional valor and pride in mission, often written by soldiers--a kind of American samizdat, the underground literature of the old Soviet Union.

It's better that home-front support for the troops should come bottom-up like this rather than from the government. Many in the U.S. are still having difficulty coming to grips with the nature of the war on terror or are discomfited by the war in Iraq. World War II was fought on many well-known fronts and without each bad day or explosion elevated to top-news status (with today's electronic world, we'd have never made it to 1944). Now we have a volunteer home front for a volunteer army.

Kept in the private sphere, separated from any formal alliance with the government, people who consider themselves part of the home front, no matter who they voted for Nov. 2, are free to act by their own lights, with their own money and for their own reasons. Finding a pro-soldiers group one wants to support doesn't require passing muster before some Madame Defarge at a blue-state dinner party. This August, Newman's Own, whose charities aren't normally associated with military matters, partnered with the Fisher House Foundation to give grants to volunteer military-support groups. The biggest recipient was Angels of Mercy, which helps soldiers badly wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan and who are now at Walter Reed Hospital.

To divert just a moment from the war, this is a good time of year to consider the nature of charity and outreach in the U.S. This country's social fabric might have been better integrated than it is today if more of the war on poverty had been left to voluntary associations, such as the Salvation Army, the bright beacon of the holiday season. Public politics is a necessity, but it's also a killer. Fought for 30 years, the war on poverty stalled, failed and forced passage of welfare reform to clean up the mess. President Bush's faith-based initiatives is an admirable recognition of voluntary power, but one wonders if it too will break under the weight of federal appropriations.

The Iraq war itself hasn't been immune. Many of its manifest problems are due to the complex bureaucracies (like the ones that were in charge of prewar intelligence) that created chokepoints rather than pathways to good decision-making in Iraq after we arrived there in March 2003.

This isn't intended as a simple rant against our fatso government, though we do damage to the targets of our good intentions if we refuse to recognize government's lumbering ineffectualities. The government can organize men and women to fight well, but it appears no longer able to organize the American people to support the fighters. Now we have this largely private support network that is reaching critical mass on the Web--without fanfare, with little official support. Sounds like a coalition of the willing.

Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on

Angels Spread Christmas Cheer
Volunteers wrap hundreds of presents for
Angels of Mercy Christmas program.
By Aranya Tomseth
November 29, 2006


Last Monday, Jay Edwards and Marian Chirichella allotted four hours for their annual Angels of Mercy Gift-Wrapping Extravaganza  but the couple was blown away when all of the presents were wrapped, and all the stockings stuffed, in just two short hours.
"I can't believe it," said Chirichella, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean, and co-founder of the Angels of Mercy program. "We had 35 people show up  some people from the McLean community, some women from the Woman's Club of McLean, and some people from the Legion. It was wonderful."
Chirichella and her husband Jay Edwards  who is commander of American Legion Post 270 in McLean  founded the Angels of Mercy program in 2003, after volunteering with the American Red Cross and visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The couple was shocked to discover that American soldiers were receiving little support, and they decided to use their expertise and community connections to do what they could to help.
The two set to work, giving speeches in the community, collecting donations and securing press coverage. The response was overwhelming, and the Angels of Mercy program has continued to send food, clothing and supplies to U.S. troops in the Middle East for the last three years.
In addition, the Angels of Mercy program has included an annual Christmas project in which hundreds of presents are purchased and personally distributed to recovering military and their families unable to make it home for the holidays, to men, women and children recovering in the wards at Walter Reed, and to the attendees of the Christmas Day brunch at Walter Reed. The program also sends hundred of other presents to patients and staff at Combat Support Hospitals in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to U.S. military supporting America's OIF/OEF from Kuwait and Qatar at Forward Operating Base Q-West.

CHIRICHELLA AND EDWARDS personally choose and purchase the Christmas gifts, and then ask the community for help with the wrapping, packing and shipping. On the morning of Monday, Nov. 27, volunteers gathered at American Legion Post 270 in McLean and quickly wrapped more than 200 presents, and stuffed more than 200 Christmas stockings.
"We sent all games to Iraq, plus we did some special things to bring them a little piece of home," said Chirichella. "So we sent them gingerbread houses that they can make, and we included decorative American flags ... we tried to give them shared items as well as the personal stuff."
Chirichella said she and her husband acquired most of this year's presents in two days of intense power shopping. She added that Angels of Mercy receives donations all year long, some of which are used for the Christmas project.

McLean resident Lucy Chatelain joined the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 four years ago, and has been a volunteer at all three of the Angels of Mercy Gift-Wrapping events.
"I hope to God that we don't have to do it again next year ... although we say that every year," said Chatelain.
She said she enjoys wrapping the presents because it makes her feel good to do something for America's troops.
"The sense of camaraderie is great fun, but it also gives you a wonderful feeling  today I accomplished something," she said.
Chatelain's friend Jim Mikesell is not part of the military, but volunteered at both last year's wrapping party and this year's.
"I think it's just a very nice thing to do, and I think what the Legion does here is great, so if I can be a small part of it I'm more than willing to pitch in," said Mikesell, who lives in McLean.

BOTH Chirichella and Edwards were thrilled with the high volunteer turnout.
"It was nice to have a true cross-cut of the community," said Chirichella. "It was nice for the whole community to say 'yeah we do care, and yeah we want to help,' and I think that people really enjoyed it. It has become a real social event."
Edwards said some of the wrapping volunteers also offered to help with other projects.
"On Christmas morning I go over and serve brunch and pass out 120 games to families at Walter Reed and it's a big job for one person, but I had two families volunteer to help me this year," said Edwards.
After the first of the year, the Angels of Mercy program will continue to send clothes and supplies to various U.S. military posts in the Middle East.
"One of these remote locations is very large and they have a lot of needs, so we're going to be supporting them throughout the year," said Chirichella.

Honoring an Angel
Marian Chirichella is recognized by President Bush
for her support of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
By Aranya Tomseth
The Connection Newspapers
April 19, 2006


Marian Chirichella never thought she would see the inside of the Oval Office, even after the White House called to inform her that President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush wanted to meet with her.
"We were told that it would be in the Lincoln Room, but while we were waiting they came and said, 'no we have a bigger surprise for you, you are going to be meeting with the President in the Oval Office,'" said Chirichella, President of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean. "It was just like being in your friend's living room  it was that congenial and that friendly, and yet you knew it was the President and Mrs. Bush."
On March 10, the President and Mrs. Bush invited the leaders of 15 organizations that have worked to support the country's active military and their families to the White House and officially thanked them for their efforts. Chirichella was one of those 15 leaders, as a result of her work with the Angels of Mercy program.
She and her husband, Legionnaire Jay Edwards, formed the Angels of Mercy program after visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2003 and seeing how little support was available. The Angels of Mercy program seeks to raise awareness of the needs of the wounded military and to garner community support for them while improving their quality of life.
Chirichella and Edwards volunteer at Walter Reed once a week. They visit with patients, bring them civilian clothing and personal comfort items, provide them with food staples and home cooked meals, and host special events such as Super Bowl parties, baby showers and children's birthday parties.
"We have become the face of America at Walter Reed, expressing the gratitude all Americans feel for what these brave young men and women have given our country," said Chirichella.
The Angels of Mercy program has also run a holiday gift-giving effort for the last three years. More than 1,000 holiday gifts were purchased, wrapped and personally delivered to recovering soldiers and their children.
Chirichella said that President Bush and Laura Bush met with her and the other group founders for a full hour in the Oval Office.
"He was extremely friendly and so was Mrs. Bush," said Chirichella. "He shared some of this thoughts with us... and it was just magnificent. I can't describe the emotion tied to it. I came home and I was just exhausted."
Chirichella said that President Bush commended the group for taking it upon themselves to help.
"He said 'you all didn't wait to be asked to help, you identified a need and jumped in and met it,'" said Chirichella.
After the meeting with the President, members of the 15 groups held a roundtable meeting to brainstorm ideas. Allison Barber, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, expressed her thanks to those present. Barber created the Department of Defense "America Supports You" program, which includes Angels of Mercy.
"You guys are the heart and soul of America Supports You," said Barber. "You've been supporting the troops long before there was ever an America Supports You program. We're humbled by your work."
Dorothy Bigger, a friend of Chirichella and Edwards, and the former president of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean, said she was pleased that Chirichella's efforts were recognized.
"She is an angel of mercy," said Bigger. "That's what she's called by all the men at Walter Reed, and it's not just there. It just comes out of her in everything she does. You can tell when you talk to her what a gentle person she is, and I think for the President to recognize what she has done is remarkable."

Getting Ready for Christmas in Iraq
Getting Ready for Christmas in Iraq - News - McLean Connection - Connection Newspapers
Angels of Mercy volunteers wrap presents for wounded soldiers in Iraq.
Aranya Tomseth/The Connection
November 28, 2005


n a remote stretch of Iraq's western desert, near the Syrian-Iraq border, there is a primitive camp called Korean Village. Over 1000 U.S. military troops are at this camp right now, helping to run checkpoints and carry out border patrol. For them, the upcoming holidays hold little cheer.
"I said, wow, we've got to help these guys because they are really on the front lines," said Jay Edwards, first vice commander of the American Legion Post 270 of McLean. "We have got to give them a Christmas."

Edwards and his wife Marian Chirichella, president of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270, are in the process of doing just that. It all started in the fall of 2003. The husband and wife team founded "Angels of Mercy," a program to support American troops that had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 and American Legion Post 270 of McLean, the program raises money to buy supplies and necessities for troops recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at several hospitals in Iraq.
"The more lives we can touch, the more we feel our program is achieving its goal," said Chirichella. "We have a saying here that if we can bring a smile to the face of a wounded soldier at Walter Reed, then we've done a lot that day."
The program started out as a small local effort, but with the aid of a little publicity it quickly gained momentum.
"The Angels of Mercy program was identified as the top volunteer program in the nation in 2004 to help active-duty military and their families," said Chirichella. "It threw the program into international recognition."
As word of mouth spread, more donations came in. According to Chirichella, the program has received contributions from 40 states, as well as from international sources.
"The more money we have to work with the more we can do  that's why we've grown so much," said Edwards.

THIS UNEXPECTED GROWTH HELPED to spawn two spin-off programs  "No Soldiers Left in Need," and the Angels of Mercy Christmas gift mailing. "No Soldiers Left in Need" was created to assist with the long-term needs of wounded American troops and their families.
"There was some concern about wounded soldiers who have returned to civilian life," said Edwards. "But with that program we just respond to requests  we're not pro-active like we are with Walter Reed."
However, when they got the idea to send Christmas gifts to Iraq, Edwards and Chirichella became about as pro-active as two people can get. Edwards was first inspired when he made contact with a U.S. Marine colonel in Iraq six months ago.
"He had told me about the needs of the hospitals, and then he got transferred to this place called Korean Village," said Edwards.
Through their e-mail correspondence, Edwards found out about the rather primitive conditions of the camp, and was also given the name of the Marine colonel who was in charge of "Christmas in Korea."
"Of course, me being me, I jumped on the Internet and e-mailed him, and he sent me a list of the things they needed," said Edwards.
Edwards and Chirichella started taking care of the list of basic supplies, and promptly decided that they wanted to do more than provide just the necessities.
"He [the Marine colonel] did say that because a lot of these young people are away from home for the holidays, and they're injured, they wanted to do a home Christmas for them," said Chirichella.
Using donation money, Chirichella personally went out and purchased hundreds of presents. She bought jigsaw puzzles, hand-held electronic games, board games, cookies, baby hams, stockings, videos, a karaoke machine and countless other treats.
"Our living room looked quite interesting," joked Chirichella. "It was like a plastic-bag rug."
The presents will be divided equally among the hospitals in Iraq and the camp. On Thursday, Nov. 17, Edwards and Chirichella organized a wrapping party at McLean Post 270, and volunteers worked all day to wrap, package and mail the presents.
"It's particularly good this year because you know they are all going to the three hospitals that they contacted in Iraq," said volunteer Betty Quinn, a member of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270. "It makes it very meaningful to know that it's a personal contact in Iraq."
Anna Carrera just joined Auxiliary Unit 270 and says that she volunteered to wrap because "it's a worthwhile cause."
"Especially because it's for the boys in Iraq," she said.
Auxiliary member Lee Holmberg also lent a helping hand at Thursday's wrapping effort.
"I think this is very important," said Holmberg. "Whether you agree with the policy [of the President] or not, you support your troops."
Both Edwards and Chirichella say that although necessities and presents are both wonderful, the material items only make up part of the "Angels of Mercy" program.
"It's not just items, it's also the things that you cannot buy like compassion and understanding and love. ...we are almost like surrogate parents to some of these kids," said Chirichella. "The program has not only different efforts, but also different focuses, from things to the love of humanity."
Edwards agrees that "TLC" is at the heart of their efforts.
"We have personally hugged over 2500 wounded soldiers, and twice as many family members," he said.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION about the "Angels of Mercy" program, or about joining the American Legion Auxiliary, please contact Marian Chirichella at 703-938-8930, or by e-mail at The "Angels of Mercy" Web site, contains up to date information about the needs of America's wounded military personnel who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. If you would like to support any of the "Angels of Mercy" activities, please make checks payable to American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270. Insert "For OIF/OEF" on the note line and mail to P.O. Box 3310, McLean, VA 22102.

'Angel of Mercy' delivers hope, comfort
by Patricia McAllister Stripe Staff Writer
September 17, 2004

Marian T. Chirichella presents Sgt. Kiet Christensen with a comfort pillow Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Photo by Patricia McAllister

Every Wednesday is an extra special day at Walter Reed. Sometime between dawn and dusk, service members and their families in the medical center, Mologne House Hotel or any one of three Fisher Houses may glance up to find an angel of mercy at their door.

Marian T. Chirichella casts a small shadow, but more than makes up for her stature in her determined demeanor coupled with a cheery attitude. There is no doubt she is a woman with a mission -- not unlike the service members she's come to visit at Walter Reed.

As the recent recipient of the The American Legion's Auxiliary Member of the Year award in Virginia, and a Red Cross volunteer, Chirichella exemplifies the commitment and dedication of all the volunteers who serve the wounded and their families here. She and her husband, Jay Edwards, created the "Angels of Mercy" program last year in the name of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 of McLean, Va.

In 2004, "Angels of Mercy" won the prestigious first place prize in the "Newman's Own Award" competition, receiving a grant of $10,000. The annual contest is co-sponsored by Newman's Own Co., the Fisher House Foundation and the Military Times Media Group.

To Chirichella's surprise, their humble idea to visit and support wounded and injured Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operating Enduring Freedom service members at Walter Reed took off and galvanized a number of organizations, churches and others to donate an abundance of items.

Everything from T-shirts to teddy bears fills the Red Cross cart she and her husband push on their weekly sojourn. What doesn't fit today will have to wait until the next trip.

"Right now our family room looks like a warehouse," Chirichella says with a twinkle in her dark eyes.

The couple lives in Vienna, Va., but spend a good deal of time commuting for the cause. A "traditional" Wednesday involves rounds at Walter Reed from morning until night, but they also typically spend Tuesdays shopping for special request items for the patients.

Three huge bins as well as coolers fill their SUV on the trips to WRAMC. "We have yet to see the back seat," Chirichella laughs.

Raised in Long Island, Chirichella has lived in Virginia since 1969. She still bears a trace of an accent, a testament to her northern roots. For much of her life, she was a teacher, and now she works as an independent researcher and consultant when she isn't volunteering. She and her husband have six children in a Brady Bunch-styled family.

Her father, injured in the Battle of Normandy in World War II, once convalesced at Walter Reed. "It's like giving a thank you back for what they did for my dad," Chirachella explains. Her husband, a Navy veteran, nods in understanding.

"This is me doing for others what I want to do," Chirichella says. "Especially doing for those who have done so much for freedom for me, for my family, for my community. We could never repay 100 percent, but if I can bring a smile to one Soldier's face, that means a lot to me. I've done something to maybe ease the pain for a split second -- that's extremely important."

Chirichella and Edwards make a complementary team of angels as they push the Red Cross cart from door to door in the wards. They aren't rushed when they visit with patients, and they take the time to make sure those recovering here have what they need.

"Hi, how are you doing today?," Chirichella warmly greets a young Soldier in his room, his injured left leg immobilized by a complicated-looking device while he sits in a wheelchair. Sgt. Kiet Christensen lights up at the sight of visitors, and Chirichella and Edwards spend time talking to him. Conversation flows easily on both sides. Christensen looks pleased when Chirichella presents him with a "comfort pillow" in a stars and stripes motif. This is just one of many little things they offer from the cart. A nurse in Oregon makes the pillows -- she's donated 250 so far.

"It really gives tremendous comfort," Chirichella says of the handmade pillows. The service members' reaction to receiving them? "Some of them just give it a hug. It's a comfort thing that stays with them wherever they go."

Edwards asks Christensen what else he needs or wants. The young sergeant requests a T-shirt and a quilt -- the rainy days make the hospital rooms chillier than usual.

"We have afghans," Edwards says. "We have some in the car." He promises to bring one to Christensen on a return visit.

"We want to make sure these kids know their country cares about them," Edwards says later.

Last weekend, the couple escorted a special visitor to the Fisher House. A woman from New York had contacted them to ask if she might visit WRAMC on 9/11. The significance of the request did not sink in until she told them who she was. She was the sister of Charles "Chick" Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked and hit the Pentagon on 9/11.

"She wanted to spend some of her time on 9/11 with the people who are suffering because of 9/11, and who are doing so much to maintain our freedom," Chirachella explains. "She was moved, and it was equally as emotional to see how the Soldiers were moved when she told them who she was."

"We consider it an honor to be allowed to do our volunteering here at Walter Reed," Chirichella says. "The staff at Walter Reed represents America's finest. They are thoroughly dedicated to the needs of our military and their families.

"Aside from that, our fellow Red Cross volunteers set a very high standard and that's a standard that everyone should attempt to emulate."

The Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Committee of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 maintains a Web site with a list of requested items for Walter Reed wounded OIF/OEF military members. Visit

Instructions for making donations are also on the site.

Vienna Woman Honored at White House

Special to the Herald
(From the issue of 4/6/06)

Marian T. Chirichella, president of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean and a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Vienna, was among 15 honorees recently invited to the White House by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush. The group was recognized for their work in supporting active duty military and their families.
During this one-hour meeting, President Bush expressed his gratitude for what each group is doing in support of those in the military. He appreciated the fact that no one asked for help, but rather they identified needs and came up with solutions. The president also shared some of his inner most thoughts about many of his decisions and actions regarding the War on Terror.
In the fall of 2003, Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) to become Red Cross volunteers in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Seeing how little support was available, they formed the Angels of Mercy Program to raise awareness of the needs of wounded military, to garner community support and to improve the quality of life of military personnel wounded and injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Volunteering at Walter Reed at least once a week, they have hugged more than 2,500 recovering military men and women, and twice that many family members. They visit patients bringing them civilian clothing and personal comfort items, provide food staples and home cooked meals and host special events such as a Super Bowl Party, Baby Showers, and childrens birthday parties.
We have become the Face of America at Walter Reed expressing the gratitude all Americans feel for what these brave young men and women have given for our country, said Chirichella.
For the past three years, the Angels of Mercy Program organized a Holiday Gift-Giving effort across Virginias 17th District. Combining donations from other units with program funds, more than 1,000 holiday gifts have been purchased, wrapped and personally delivered to the recovering soldiers and their children by volunteers.
In 2004, the Angels of Mercy Program won the national Newmans Own Award (started by actor Paul Newman) as the best volunteer program in American supporting our active duty military and their families. Thanks to the extra publicity, support poured in enabling Chirichella and Edwards to expand the program to include Combat Support Hospitals in Iraq, remote military sites like Camp Korean Village, Iraq, and an R&R facility in Qatar.
It is an honor to serve our young heroes whose lives are forever changed; it is also my way of saying thank you for the treatment my Dad received at Walter Reed while rehabilitating after being wounded in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, said Chirichella.
Following the meeting at the White House, members of the 15 honored groups held a roundtable meeting to brainstorm ways to get the word out to service members about the assistance they provide and to discuss how to solve certain inherent difficulties associated with nonprofit work.
For additional information about Angels of Mercy visit or call 703.938.8930.

Copyright )2006 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

Volunteer Fairfax
2006 Award for Senior Volunteer

Marian T. Chirichella

If I can bring a smile to the face of one of our wounded heroes even for a split second, I have achieved something that day.  Marian

Many seniors have a hard time deciding what to do when they retire, but for some the decision is easy. For her work with American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean and Angels in Iraq, the winner of the Senior Volunteer Award is Marian Chirichella.

Exceptional times create exceptional people and Marian is one of them. She was elected president of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in 2004. In 2005, when she and her husband heard that wounded soldiers in hospitals in Iraq needed health and comfort items, she sprang into action and launched Angels in Iraq, a nationwide American Legion campaign to let legionnaires and auxiliary members know how to support the troops in Iraq.

She sent emails to hospitals in Baghdad and Fallujah asking for a wish list of items the patients needed. The lists that came back included t-shirts, magazines, flip-flops, and back scratchers for patients wearing casts, but unable to reach their itch.

Under Marians leadership, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 has supported a number of local nonprofits including SHARE, Inc., a nonprofit all-volunteer organization that helps meet the emergency needs of deserving families and individuals. The unit collected non-perishable items year-round for SHARE. During the holidays, they collected items to stock the Holiday Gift Shopping Spree, a way for those less fortunate to select gifts for immediate family members.

Marians nominator Jay Edwards of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 notes that Marian was named the American Legion Auxiliary Member of the Year for the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2004  2005. Congratulations to Marian for connecting the needs of soldiers overseas to the generosity and support of volunteers here at home.

Volunteer Fairfax
2007 Award for Community Leadership

Jay Edwards

As the Commander of American Legion Post 270, retired Naval Officer Jay Edwards has founded several programs that inspire future generations to become leaders of their own communities.

Encouraging civic engagement at all ages, Post members participate in McLean Day and various July 4 celebrations to distribute American flags and discuss the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance with children.

Under Jays command, the Post also reinstituted the I Like Living in America Because middle school essay contest, and established a program at McLean High School that allows learning-disabled children to gain job skills. After visiting the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2003, Jay and his wife Marian Chirichella founded the Angels of Mercy program.

Volunteers visit wounded soldiers recovering at Walter Reed, provide clothing essentials, comfort items and deliver well-wishes from across America. Angels of Mercy also boxed clothing and school supplies to send to Afghan and Iraqi children, and wrapped hundreds of holiday presents for recovering men and women at Walter Reed and at overseas military hospitals.

The efforts of this organization have earned Legion Post 270, Newmans Own Award for Best Volunteer Program in America Supporting Our Active Duty Military and their Families. Jay also received a Benchmark Award for completing more than 500 hours of service. These awards will be added to the familys collection, which includes his wifes own 2006 Fairfax County Volunteer Service award.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld Recognizes
Angels of Mercy

Summit Connects Grassroots Organizers
By Donna Miles / American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2005 


American Forces Press Service

America Supports You: Summit Connects Grassroots Organizers

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2005  Representatives of grassroots organizations supporting troops and their families in partnership with the "America Supports You" program got hearty thanks and encouragement from defense leaders today during the first-ever America Supports You summit here at the Pentagon.
Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld shakes hands with Robbie Bergquist, 13, who is standing next to his sister Brittany, 15. Robbie and Brittany are the founders of Cell Phones For Soldiers, a program that helps deployed servicemembers call home. Rumsfeld thanked about 85 representatives of grass-roots groups for their efforts as part of the America Supports You Team during a summit at the Pentagon, Dec. 2. Photo by R.D. Ward

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the 85 attendees, who represent nearly half of the 175 nonprofit groups partnering with America Supports You, their efforts are making "an enormous difference" for military members.

Rumsfeld likened their initiatives - from sending care packages, to providing video links between troops and their families, to building houses for wounded troops - to pebbles dropped in a pond.

"Each thing people look at, whether it's a cookie or a card or a word of support, you think it's not that big a deal, but it is," he said. "The ripples go out." And with each gesture - each pebble dropped in the pond -t he ripples begin crisscrossing and reinforcing each other, the secretary said.

Rumsfeld singled out examples of the groups' activities. To Shauna Fleming, a California teenager who founded "A Million Thanks," a group that's sent 1.4 million thank-you notes to troops, Rumsfeld said, "You're a one-woman Army!" He praised John Gonsalves of "Homes for Our Troops," a group that builds specially adapted homes for returning disabled veterans, for accomplishing in days what months of bureaucratic red tape couldn't. The organization provided bathroom support bars at no cost to a wounded soldier.

The secretary also acknowledged Jay Edwards and his wife Marian Chirichella of "Angels of Mercy," a group that visits wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here weekly and offers gifts and other treats for the troops and their families.

"The folks who are serving out there are doing an absolutely superb job," Rumsfeld said of U.S. troops fighting the war on terror. "There is no question that they understand the importance of this struggle that they are in.

"It is truly historic what's taking place" in that struggle, the secretary said, noting that today's troops will some day look back on what they've accomplished and recognize the significance of their contributions.

"Each of you, just as the soldiers, sailors and airmen and Marines are part of that battle and struggle, each of you is participating as well," the secretary told the group. "You are a part of that history.

"I want you to know how much we appreciate each of you for what you are doing," Rumsfeld said.

"I hope you will continue to encourage your friends and neighbors and other organizations to tune in to," he said, "and find out what you are doing and what other people are doing to help make us a better country and a better world and a safer world for the American people."

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq, emphasized the importance of public support to the military.

"We do not have a morale problem in Iraq," Odierno said, calling the troops "extremely motivated" because they believe in the mission and their country.

In addition, he said, they recognize that "the American people have been wonderful" about showing their support for them. "Thank you for what you do for us every day," he told the group, whose members initiate much of that effort. "I salute you for your service and your support to your nation, and most importantly to me, to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines ... who are performing around the world."

"They really do appreciate the tremendous support that you give them," Odierno said. "And it's important that they understand that they are getting that support."

Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who came up with the America Supports You program concept and oversees its operations, called the groups' initiatives "so critical and so vital" to the military.

"And it's important for you to know that the folks here at the Department of Defense are very grateful to you for your energy and your efforts," she said.

Today's meeting was planned to help make sure DoD is doing everything possible "to help you help our military," she said. Participants in the summit welcomed the opportunity to meet and hear from defense leaders and meet with each other during break-out sessions during the day.

"It's a wonderful opportunity because it gives us the opportunity to network and connect with others who have a common goal," said Steve Chelette from "Troop Talk," a group that provides near-time communication for deployed troops and their friends and loved ones at home.

Darlene Harvey Harrigan of "Adopt a Soldier Ministries," called the meeting a great way for America Supports You members to exchange ideas and learn from each other. She also hoped to gain insights into how grassroots organizations can enhance their efforts to support the troops. "It's all about them," she said.

For Carolyn Blashek of "Operation Gratitude," which sends care packages to deployed troops, the session presented a unique opportunity for America Supports You members and defense officials to learn more from each other about their efforts for the troops. "This is great," agreed David Jester of "Give 2 the Troops," which responds to specific troop requests for items ranging from T-shirts to DVDs. "We're networking. We're learning from each other."

Just as importantly, he and other participants agreed, the session presented an opportunity for those supporting the troops to tap into each others' enthusiasm and dedication.

Christina Finn of Chicago's "Patriotic Pillow Project," which provides hand-stitched pillows to troops overseas, called the meeting a great chance to meet like-minded, positive, supportive individuals from across the country. "I learned so much being here this weekend and being able to brainstorm (with the other participants)," she said.

Today's session was the first Pentagon visit for most of the participants and the largest gathering of the community organizations since the launch of America Supports You last November.

DoD introduced the program to answer a question officials began hearing from deployed troops: "Do the American people still support us?" Barber reminded the group today.

"And when we heard that question, we were confused, because we saw all the wonderful things that were happening," from care packages being sent to yellow ribbons being affixed to cars and wrapped around trees, she said. "So we were concerned that you were doing wonderful things but our military members did not know."

In response, DoD created what Barber called a "connector campaign" that she said helps bring visibility to those efforts and provides a resource for Americans looking for ways to lend their support.

"We decided that the Department of Defense doesn't need to start a lot of new initiatives, because you were already doing it," she said. "We just had to figure out a way to know what was happening and then communicate that to our men and women in the military."

Since the America Supports You Launch, 175 grassroots organizations and 22 corporations have joined the program. In addition, "hundreds of thousands of Americans are coming to the America Supports You Web site to learn out about what you are doing and how they can help you," Barber told the group.

"You are the heart of the America Supports You campaign," she said.

The upcoming year will bring several new initiatives to broaden the program's reach, Barber said. Among them are a new youth strategy to promote efforts among America's young people, a new DoD-sponsored bulletin board to enable America Supports You partners to share information and ideas, and regional events being planned around the country.

"We have a big year planned and we are excited about it," Barber said. "And we just can't move fast enough."

Newsletter Archive
Our Message to the Military.... "America Supports You"
December 29, 2005
E-Newsletter Volume XXXXI
Camp Fallujah, Iraq
Photo, caption below
Marines stationed in Fallujah pose with their America Supports You pre-paid phone cards, donated by Wal-Mart and brought to Iraq for the holidays by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Washington, D.C.
Photo, caption below.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy Gordon England signs an oversized chess piece for America Supports You team member Operation Interdependence.
McLean, Va.
Photo, caption below
Angels of Mercy volunteers show their America Supports You colors, wrapping over 800 Christmas presents for wounded and injured soldiers in Iraq, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and troops stationed at Camp Korean Village, Iraq.

Members of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 of McLean, Va., wrapped over 800 Christmas presents for wounded and injured service members this holiday season. The volunteers, all wives or widows of military veterans, spent two days at wrapping parties for Angels of Mercy, an America Supports You team member. Angels of Mercy co-founder Jay Edwards was inspired to do something special for the holidays this year after hearing of more than 1,000 U.S. military troops stationed at Korean Village, a camp located near the Syrian border. Using donated monies, Angels of Mercy co-founder and Edwards wife, Marian Chirichella, purchased hundreds of presents, from baby hams to a karaoke machine, to be split equally among hospitals in Iraq, Camp Korean Village, and Walter Reed.


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