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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Will Operation Dear Abby be accepting cards and letters this year? I am hoping to use it as a service project for my church youth group. Writing holiday messages to our servicemen and women is one of the best gifts that anyone -- any age -- can give this year. Thanks, Abby. -- ALLISON NAHR, ARLINGTON, VA.

DEAR ALLISON: Your question is a timely one because the following letter just arrived from the Department of Defense. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: For more than 17 years, you have brought good will and cheer to members of the armed forces through your column. During the holiday season, you solicited patriotic Americans to send cards and letters to servicemembers stationed away from home and families. Your Operation Dear Abby program brought support and comfort to thousands of troops posted overseas, embarked upon ships or on operational deployments far from home.

Unfortunately, as world events have shown, those who would do harm to Americans and their guardians will exploit any opportunity. The mail-related attacks of last year demonstrated the vulnerability of the postal system for use in terror-related actions. Although "Any Servicemember" card and letter programs such as Operation Dear Abby were established to boost morale, they also allow for the introduction of mail into the military postal system from unknown sources, creating a threat to the very forces the program supported.

Upon consultation with all branches of the armed services, Any Servicemember programs, including your own, were suspended indefinitely in October 2001. This suspension is still in effect.

HOWEVER: Please inform your readers that due to the overwhelming popularity of such morale-boosting programs, and in cooperation with the Department of Defense, your Internet alternative,, will continue to allow patriotic Americans to send messages of support to military members via e-mail.

Your Web site is safe, secure and accessible for all members of the armed forces deployed worldwide. -- EDWARD A. PARDINI, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MILITARY POSTAL SERVICE AGENCY, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

So, Allison, as you can see, although it is still not possible to send cards and letters through Operation Dear Abby using the postal system, a faster and easier alternative is available on the Internet,, and I'm sure your church youth group will enjoy it.

And for the rest of my Dear Readers, if there is a message in your hearts you would like to convey to our heroic servicemen and women stationed worldwide during this holiday season, now's the time! All your good wishes will be relayed by the Department of Defense to our troops via, a secure military site that serves all branches of the armed forces year-round.

Christmas and New Year's are just around the corner. So, fire up those computers, type in and show our troops how much we support them. If you're not computer-literate, ask a computer-savvy friend to help you send a message. This year, it's more important than ever to show these brave young men and women in the military that they're remembered -- and appreciated -- by the folks back home.

Happy holidays, everyone! -- Love, DEAR ABBY, a.k.a. Jeanne Phillips

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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