By Greg Hanlon
With no end in sight to the conflict in Iraq, the number of soldiers killed or wounded in battle continues to climb. The American death toll is now approximately 3,900, while the number of soldiers wounded in battle has reached almost 29,000, a number that does not include those killed or wounded in Afghanistan. The death toll for New York State, according to figures from the Washington Post, as of December 31, 2007, was 194. It is a universal impulse among all Americans to lend a helping hand to these soldiers and their families. In a quiet corner of Brooklyn, one man has come up with a novel idea to say “Thank you.” Charlie Gili, Chief of Operations for the Brooklyn Division of the Parks Department and a coach in the Coney Island-based Greater New York Ice Hockey organization, has launched a grassroots fundraising campaign called “NY State Hockey Players Support Our Troops.” The campaign seeks to benefit the families of servicemembers from New York State who have been killed or wounded in Iraq. New York State’s death toll of 170 ranks fourth in the nation behind California, Texas, and Pennsylvania. The program revolves around “Support Our Troops” patches that Gili is selling to hockey organizations throughout the state. These patches are sewn onto uniforms and equipment bags to raise awareness about Gili’s efforts and to remind people of the ongoing conflict and its mounting casualties. The small operation – which Gili and his family run from their living room – has thus far brought in approximately $11,000 since it started a month ago. But as Gili continues to tirelessly bang out letters, emails, and phone calls, he hopes that number will drastically increase in the coming months. Along with galvanizing New York State’s youth hockey community, he has reached out to the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Buffalo Sabres, along with their minor league affiliates. “I’ve gotten a whole bunch of promises, so hopefully that number will shoot up quite a bit,” he said while leaving a hockey game in Connecticut. “I have tremendous respect for the people out there that are fighting and their families. It’s peoples’ brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. I get to go to this hockey tournament without being worried where my son is. But New Yorkers just like me have to answer the phone every day not knowing what that call is,” he continued. The drive will probably conclude sometime this spring. Between now and then, Gili is working with State Senator Marty Golden to determine the best way to deliver the money to the victims’ families. The fundraising effort is the second campaign Gili has undertaken to support soldiers from New York State. Ever since the Iraq war began in 2003, Gili has been coordinating a holiday-season letter-writing campaign to let the troops know that they are on the minds of New York State’s youth hockey community. He is hopeful that people will appreciate the value of his cause regardless of their opinions on the war itself. “Whether or not the decisions that have been made to this point have been right or wrong, I don’t know. But I’ve tried to stay away from that in this campaign and just focus on the guys in harm’s way,” he said. Aside from the money, Gili believes his campaign is worthwhile because it reminds people of the dangers the servicemen and women face. “More than anything else, it keeps people in tuned to what’s going on,” he said. “Hopefully it will make some difference to people who need it. It lets them know that we’re thinking about them.” To contact the Gili family, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 917-417-6224/718-965-8922. To make a contribution by mail, write to: NYSHPSOT c/o Charlie Gili, 3906 Avenue R, Brooklyn, NY 11234.