Soldiers Angels Lose Their Halos
When potential donors receive direct mail solicitations from Soldiers Angels (SA), a Pasadena, CA-based charity, they are likely to notice the name Patti Patton Bader and her status as founder of SA and great-niece of Gen. George S. Patton. On SA solicitation letterhead her name takes precedence, appearing larger and bolder than even the name of the charity. Some donors may assume that the claims made in the solicitation of a charity associated with a famous name, such as the relative of a well-known military general, may be more reliable. A closer look at one of SA’s programs could dash such hopes about this AIP D-rated charity. (The major reason for this rating is that SA spent only 36% of its total 2006 cash expenses on program services.)
A primary program of SA is its online store. Donors can shop for and purchase products that SA will then ship to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under each item the charity describes how soldiers will use these gifts. For instance, on the web page where donors can buy boots for soldiers, SA claims that “[t]he military issues each soldier 2 pair of boots and no more.” Furthermore, the charity explains that the conditions the soldiers are working in tend to “eat up” the boots, stating that “[t]he sand and heat just destroy them.” SA goes on to say, “So as you can imagine, our soldiers go through boots pretty fast. [S]ometimes our soldiers simply do not have the money or opportunity to purchase these boots for themselves.” This may alarm some donors into thinking U.S. soldiers may be left nearly barefoot if it were not for this program. However, an e-mail AIP received from U.S. Army Public Affairs spokesperson Monica Miller seems to contradict what SA claims on its web site: “Soldiers receiv[e] two pairs of summer boots and one pair of winter boots. If the boots become damaged, enlisted soldiers can turn the damaged items in and they are replaced at no charge to the soldier.”
When AIP asked SA for its source for the “2 pair of boots and no more” figure, Ms. Bader claimed she “didn’t write that,” but that the charity bases its needs on e-mails and conversations with soldiers. She also offered to change the web site. When AIP pointed out that the description may not only mislead the reader, but may also seem disparaging to the U.S. Army, Ms. Bader said, “We love the Army. [We are] only here to enhance the Army.”
As of press time, SA took out the words “no more” from the “2 pair of boots and no more” statement. AIP does not believe this corrects the error. Not only does the statement still suggest that soldiers receive only two pairs of boots, but it implies that soldiers need to purchase additional pairs of boots unless donors purchase them on their behalf.
Another item SA sends to deployed soldiers is the First Response Backpack. These backpacks are filled with such items as t-shirts, shorts, toothpaste, mouthwash, disposable razors and shampoo and are given to injured soldiers as they are admitted to Combat Support Hospitals (CSHs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. SA’s web site claims these backpacks are necessary because when the soldiers arrive “they have only what they were wearing… and that is usually not in very good condition. It can take up to a couple of days before they receive replacement supplies and it is often weeks before their belongings catch up to them.” A Sgt. Cary is quoted on SA’s web site about his hospital experience after being wounded in Iraq: “I woke up the next day and had nothing to wear or any hygiene stuff.” In an e-mail from Margaret Tippy, a Media Relations Officer with the U.S. Army Medical Command, Ms. Tippy told AIP, “The Army provides a large quantity of personal supplies and clothing to injured soldiers at every step of care. Numerous community-spirited private groups also send items.” She acknowledged that the Army appreciates the desire of private organizations to support wounded soldiers.
AIP is skeptical that if it were not for SA or other charities, soldiers would not have their basic needs, such as boots, clothing, and hygienic products provided for them. We find it disturbing that SA continues to solicit donations with these claims. Soldiers are professionals, not charity cases, and ought to be treated with respect. It is fine for a charity to send tokens of appreciation to soldiers, but it is wrong to mislead donors by implying that the basic needs of soldiers are not already being met by the military.
After publication of AIP's article "Soldiers Angels Lose Their Halos," Soldiers Angels (SA) improved the portions of its website mentioned in our article. These changes better reflect the additional goods, comfort, and conveniences SA offers to soldiers beyond what the military already provides in fulfilling soldiers' basic needs.