NASHVILLE, Tenn.-- Tennessee whiskey maker Jack Daniel's is donating more than $100,000 to pay for plane tickets and travel funds for soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., to spend the December holiday season with their families all over the country.
The distiller is also asking the public to make additional contributions that could help hundreds of cash-strapped soldiers who otherwise would be stuck at the post on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. Donations can be made to the Operation Ride Home campaign online at www.jdoperationridehome.com.
Fort Campbell, said she will be working with unit leaders to identify the neediest soldiers who will be eligible for plane ticket vouchers up to $300 for each family member and debit cards up to $100 for each family member for gas and lodging.
Jack Daniel's is starting the fund with a donation of $101,000 in honor of the Fort- Campbell-based 101st Airborne Division, which has recently returned from yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. The soldiers stationed there come from all over the country, but travel expenses can be a huge burden on single soldiers or young families with children.
"Unfortunately a lot of these soldiers don't have the money to fly to New York or fly to California," she said. "There wouldn't be gifts for Christmas if they did that."
West said this is the first large-scale program she's seen in the military to pay for soldiers' personal travel expenses.
Jennifer Powell, senior brand manager for the whiskey distiller based in Lynchburg, Tenn., said they hope their donation will build awareness of the needs of these soldiers. Country musician Craig Morgan, also a veteran from the 101st Airborne, is promoting the campaign in a video on Jack Daniel's website.
"The military does an excellent job of getting folks to the base, but sometimes the soldiers just don't have the means to get from the base to their homes," she said.
Powell said they have already identified 20 families at Fort Campbell who have a legitimate need for the travel funds. They are asking people to donate by Dec. 16, so they can get the vouchers out in time for the holidays.
Wayne St. Louis, a former command sergeant major with the 101st Airborne who retired this year after 26 years in the Army, said spending the holidays alone can be depressing for soldiers who have just returned from a combat tour. Many soldiers at Fort Campbell have deployed three or four times in their careers and missed out on countless holidays and anniversaries.
"It's a tough year away and you want to be home," he said. "There's nothing like the support of your family and that special treatment you get because of your deployment."
While this is the first year that Jack Daniel's has made this donation, Powell said she hopes the support from the public will allow them to expand it and make it an annual campaign.
"Every little bit does help. Where the power is going to come is getting the American public to see there is a need and that we can facilitate a way for them to help support our soldiers," Powell said.