Group looks to support troops with banner signing

Food or FLEX-it's not just a choice for dinner anymore. It is also an option for donating money for care packages for soldiers, sailors and Marines on active duty.

Duke Conservative Union launched a drive Tuesday that will include fundraising for the packages and gathering signatures on a five-by-13-foot banner to be displayed at a Marine base in North Carolina. DCU Executive Director Stephen Miller, a senior and Chronicle columnist, said the endeavor is a way to show support for the armed forces.

"We've reached a time when the American college campus is, as it was in the '60s and '70s, a haven for anti-military sentiment," he said. "This is an opportunity for the silent majority-not a political group, but the vast majority of Americans-who believe in the nobility of the men and women in uniform to show that."

Miller made a special arrangement with Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee to allow the donation of food points on the condition that they be used to pay for food. He said the money will help to provide holiday treats for servicepeople in Iraq and other war zones.

"The troops overseas have to buy luxury foods on their own dollar-anything that's not on ration," Miller said. "If you're serving in the Green Zone in Iraq, there's not a lot of opportunity to buy gingerbread cookies."

An exception also had to be made that will allow DCU to set up their banner on the first floor of the East Union Building Wednesday. Unlike in past years, new rules mandate that student organizations can only table on the bottom floor of the building. Miller said the administration was helpful and accommodating.

The idea for the drive, hatched early in the year, comes to fruition in the wake of Veterans' Day, which was celebrated Saturday. Miller said many people have the impression that today's youth does not recognize the sacrifices made by the troops-an impression he hopes DCU's effort can dispel.

"As far as I know, there has never been anything like this in the history of Duke University or any other major American university," Miller said. "I see this as the beginning of a trend of younger people taking time to show their support for the military."

When the banner is filled with signatures, DCU representatives will deliver it to Camp Lejeune, a Marine base near Jacksonville in southeastern North Carolina.

Students gathered to sign the banner at the Bryan Center Tuesday night. Sophomore Sara Quick was one passer-by who stopped to add her signature. For her, the cause hits close to home.

"One of my really good friends served in Afghanistan and is going to Iraq in June," she said. "I believe we should really support the troops regardless of our political beliefs."

Her friend Celia Glass, also a sophomore, admitted her own views did not align with those of the DCU members present but signed it anyway-again because of a personal connection to servicepeople.

"I did struggle with the fact that it said 'Duke Conservative Union' on it, but I have friends of a friend who are there, and it's not their fault," she said.

Miller said although the project is sponsored by DCU, he sees it as an opportunity for students to bridge ideological and political divides. Most people support the U.S. armed forces regardless of their political stance, he said, but sometimes that is lost in the furor of partisan politics.

"You cannot underestimate the importance of average citizens showing the soldiers that we care," Miller said. "They are the ones who are keeping us safe-we're here enjoying all these great luxuries stateside at Duke University, but these men and women are facing down evil overseas."


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