Washington, Dec. 6 -


Madam Speaker, Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is just around the corner. All throughout America, families will gather to celebrate the traditions and festivities, and be together and celebrate faith. But there are some American families that won’t have their entire family with them this year. There will be an empty chair at their table. That’s because their loved ones serve in the U.S. military in lands throughout the world.

War at Christmas in not new, and this year will be no exception for many of our warriors that are still on call, still on duty serving America. But there is a way to connect with our troops throughout the world, and it’s a project that we are involved in southeast Texas through the Red Cross and Operation Interdependence.

And here’s how it works. It’s a way of having young school-age children connect with troops not only in our war zone, but other places in the world where our troops are serving America.

It started several years ago when I had the opportunity to go see our troops in the Middle East about this time of the year. Before I left, my staff came up with the idea that maybe I should take some Christmas cards and holiday cards to our troops that were serving overseas. And so they did all the work and they were able to get schoolteachers to get their kids to volunteer to make handmade Christmas cards. I took about 6,000 of those handmade cards to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders overseas.

On my way back from the Middle East, I stopped off at the Landstuhl military base. That’s the place in Germany where our wounded warriors are taken before they’re brought back to the United States. I distributed those cards not only in the Middle East but to our troops, and even our NATO troops, at Landstuhl.

But here is what happened on the plane when I was going overseas – I checked a couple bags, but I took one bag on the plane with me. It was a night flight, flying overnight and arriving in the daytime. I started going through one of these suitcases that has all of these cards in it. I was looking at them, and the person next to me wanted to know what I was doing. I told him these were from school kids back in southeast Texas. He was passing them around. Before I know it, these cards were up and down the aisles in that plane and I could hear sobbing and saw tears of emotion from some of the passengers on the plane reading those cards from school kids connecting with our troops overseas.

When I came back to the Landstuhl military base, some of our troops who were wounded opened the cards and wanted the nurses to put the cards on the wall. Even NATO troops that were there from foreign countries had these cards that were from American youth.

Madam Speaker, there’s something about a warrior from the United States opening up a handmade Christmas card from some kid in the United States. At that moment, the darkness of war seems to disappear because of the brightness of a child.

I have had the opportunity to have these cards made by the kids in southeast Texas now for 5 years. I say I’ve had the opportunity. I don’t do the work. My staff does the work, along with the chambers of commerce and all the teachers. Everybody volunteers. When my staff does the work, it’s not doing it on government hours. It’s after work; it’s on the weekend, planning and getting these cards from throughout southeast Texas.

Every year the number of cards that are either taken or shipped gets to be more. The first year, it was 6,000. The next year, 10,000 Christmas cards were shipped overseas. The third year, 16,000 cards. And, Madam Speaker, this year kids from southeast Texas are shipping to our troops overseas 35,000 handmade cards, wishing them well, giving them Christmas greetings, saying some of the most awesome things that only third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders could say.

So I want to thank those kids. I want to thank Rikki Wheeler and the chamber of commerce in Baytown. I want to thank Ross Sterling High School, Horace Mann Junior High, Highlands Elementary, and I want to thank those teachers. God bless our teachers who work to have these kids volunteer to make cards for our volunteers overseas who won’t be home for Christmas, because there’s an empty chair at the Christmas table where that soldier, that warrior, that sailor, that airman is not there because they’re representing the United States in lands far, far away.

And that’s just the way it is.