Radio station's 15th annual drive continues tradition of helping active dury members, veterans and their families.

COURTESY KPAM - KPAM goes directly to its listeners to raise money for military personnel in need, in perhaps its final on-air drive. For the 15th year in a row, News-Talk 860 KPAM radio will raise money for local military service members in need, beginning Monday, Nov. 27. Former radio host Bob Miller, who started the annual fundraising drive before he retired, will return to the air through Friday, Dec. 1, to solicit donations from listeners.

"This will likely be my last full show on the air, and I want to give it everything I've got this year," Miller says.

KPAM, like the Portland Tribune, is owned by Pamplin Media Group. The fundraising starts at 6 a.m. when First Edition takes the air. Each show, including the Bob Miller Show and Afternoon Northwest, will be fundraising. Service members and other special guests will be answering phones from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The annual drive started in 2003 when Miller read an article about financial difficulties of deployed Oregon National Guard and Reserve troops. Military pay often was far less than their day jobs, creating financial problems for their families, especially when service members had to deal with unexpected expenses, such as car repairs, an appliance failing, or illness.

As Miller saw it, the domestic problems were complicated by the fact that troops could, by then, easily communicate with their families because of internet access, making them far more aware than before of the troubles at home. Instead of focusing on their military missions, the troops were distracted by worrying about how their spouse was going to pay the overdue electric bill, Miller realized, or how their kids were going to get to school when the transmission in the minivan failed.

"These people are serving their country, doing what they've been asked to do in some pretty terrible places, and it's not right that they have to worry about things back home," Miller says.

Miller decided he and KPAM had to do something to help the troops and their families. During annual drives over the past 14 years, KPAM listeners have contributed almost $2 million in support. The funding initially helped recent honorably discharged service members, and then grew to assist veterans of all wars — expanding the help to address homelessness and the plague of suicides among former military members.

"We've paid for appliances, transmissions, toys for Christmas, you name it. I've talked to members of the service who we've helped, and they're incredibly grateful. But they don't want to go on the air and talk about their stories because they're not used to having to accept help, and they're afraid someone they know will recognize their voice," Miller says.

There are several changes in this year's drive. For starters, because of copyright restrictions, KPAM cannot use the longtime name "Operation Santa Claus." Instead, it will be called "Operation Helping Our Heroes." And because original charity partner the Salvation Army says it can no longer serve active-duty military personnel with the funds, the new partner is the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center.

KPAM is excited that Miller will host the five-day drive from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m Monday through Friday. In addition, local Air Force members will be present in the studio, not just on Friday like other years, but every day of this year's fundraiser, staffing the phone lines and sharing stories of deployment on-air. Donors will be able to talk with service members and have the opportunity to thank them for their service.

Some local celebrities also will join the drive during the week, and other surprises are in the works.

"One year Tony Orlando was in town during the drive. He came in for an interview and fell in love with the concept and spent half a day raising money with us. Those are the kinds of things that happen," Miller says.

According to KPAM, 100 percent of donations go to help service members in need. Active-duty and honorably discharged veterans living in Oregon or Southwest Washington are eligible. Funds raised are paid directly to those providing services.

All of the money stays in the local area and helps our local service members. This is important because the Portland/Vancouver metro area does not have the large military infrastructure that families who serve in northern Washington can rely on. There, the Joint Base Lewis-McCord provides services and support for military families in that region. But families here are more on their own, without an established military community surrounding and supporting them, both emotionally and financially.

Funds raised during the drive support the following needs: housing, utilities, food, basic clothing, medical/dental/mental health care not covered by the Veterans Administration or other options, repair or replacement of normal essential household items, such as appliances, and vehicle repairs.

The upcoming fundraising drive could be the last one on KPAM. The station has been sold to California-based Intelli LCC, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

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