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Volunteer discovers her mission: Helping families of wounded troops

  • Story Highlights
  • Peggy Baker's son enlisted in the Army shortly after September 11, 2001
  • She founded Operation First Response about three years ago
  • The organization helps military families with travel, supplies and other support
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(CNN) -- Peggy Baker said she never gave much thought to the military before her son enlisted in the Army shortly after September 11, 2001.

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Peggy Baker is the founder of Operation First Response.

"We were a family that walked around and had no idea of the sacrifices that were being made every day and throughout history," she said. "All of a sudden, I was put into a position that my child was going to defend our country, and it opened my eyes."

So, Baker said she looked for a way to support U.S. troops. Initially, she connected with other military mothers on the Internet to compile and send care packages to deployed troops.

But when a fellow mother's son was wounded, Baker joined her at Walter Reed Medical Center, in Washington, to visit him. There, as she looked around at the parents tending to their wounded children, Baker said she found her mission.

"[I] realized that there are a lot of things that we as American citizens can do to lighten the load of some families of the wounded," Baker said. "And so, from there it started."

"It" is Baker's nonprofit organization, Operation First Response. In the nearly three years of its existence, it has grown from just Baker and a few others bringing supplies to the families at Walter Reed to supporting U.S. military hospitals across several states; in Landstuhl, Germany; and in some combat hospitals in Iraq as well.

Operation First Response helps military families in several ways, Baker said. Through its "OFR backpack" program, it provide backpacks filled with clothing and hygiene items to military hospitals for families. The organization also collects donated frequent flier miles to help transport military families to be with their loved ones, and it continues to offer food, hygiene items, books and money to families at Walter Reed.

Through its various services, Baker estimates that Operation First Response has helped 3,000 military families.

"There is a price for the freedom that we live and we experience and enjoy. And that price is on our military." She added, "As citizens, we need to reach out and lighten their load."

For Baker, the pull to help is so strong that she amassed nearly $10,000 in debt to get the organization off the ground, she said. Two other women actively involved in the organization also went several thousand dollars into debt, Baker said.

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The organization now survives on donations, Baker said.

"When you are talking to a family that desperately needs to get to a hospital to the bedside of a loved one, or has no food on the table for the children because of the added expenses of being with a loved one during those times, you'll do anything," she said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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