Support our troops.
It's a phrase I've heard from both sides of the political aisle. Some say it, and what they mean is, "Stop criticizing the war and get behind this cause." Others say it and mean, "This war is a bad idea and we need to bring these soldiers home."
Both sides argue they are supporting our troops, and I wouldn't dare tell them they are wrong. But I spoke to a man the other day who has found another way to support our troops. He's planning to hop on a bicycle and ride clear across the country.
His name is Daniel Forant, and at this very moment his 18-year-old son is somewhere west of Baghdad. Daniel Forant III is a local boy, born and raised in Cohoes - an Army infantryman who is a long way from home.
Like a lot of men and women in uniform, he would feel a million miles away if not for the letters and packages that arrive from the Capital District. That's where his dad comes in.
Last August, Daniel Sr. wanted to show his support for his son, so he set up a little Web site.
It had pictures and postings he could share with his friends and relatives. Pretty soon people started sharing the site, and before long, Dan had other parents asking if they could include their son or daughter on the site. Dan said yes, and not long after he changed the name of the Web site to www.supportourtroopsiniraq.com.
"We were truly amazed at how this grew," Dan said. "It started out being just about my son, but now there are over 100 servicemen and women being honored."
And it didn't stop there. When Dan heard that the troops in Iraq needed little "reminders" from home, he quickly put together a donation campaign. Before long he had more than 5,000 pounds of goods. "Personal hygiene items are the most popular," he told me. With all that sand blowing in the wind, it's all the troops can do to keep their eyes and ears clean.
Dan has received help from all over the country. There's the eighth grade class in Pontdulac, Wisconsin, which filled 22 boxes with board games and books. And let's not forget the workers at Louisville Power and Electric, who wrote 600 Christmas cards and letters for the soldiers over the holidays. And now the bike ride.
Dan Forant has this crazy idea that he can ride a bicycle from Albany to Hollywood, in an effort to raise money for our troops. If he can get people to donate just one penny for every three miles he peddles, that works out to roughly 20 bucks per pledge. His goal is to raise $50,000. My question to him: Can a 39-year-old financial marketer who only jogs three days a week get on a bike and ride more than 2,000 miles? He thinks so.
Dan will start this difficult personal journey March 1. If he can pound out 60 to 70 miles per day, he'll reach Hollywood in six weeks. What about work? Dan says he'll bring along his laptop computer and plug in where he can.
Whenever I see people doing things like this, I wonder if it's all just a publicity stunt. While Dan would love publicity, he says it's not about that. It's about one man who's proud of his son and wants to show it by making his own sacrifice.
"Imagine if we raise a lot of money and we are able to go to a family that has lost a child over there and hand them a check for $5,000. We could tell them this is from people who have not forgotten your loss."
It's thoughts like that that will drive him. One mile, one penny at a time.
John Gray's column appears every Wednesday.