Programs can help vets and troops

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Wanting to do something to help the brave young Americans serving their country on foreign soil is only natural. Reading Thomas Enright’s e-mails from Afghanistan, a few of which were published in the Wednesday Style section of The Democrat, prods us even further to action.

Enright presents a detailed list of care package items he and his fellow soldiers would welcome.

We can picture the problem sand presents, the gritty dust in creases around the nose and mouth and in the scalp. We can relate to the request for baby wipes and shampoo.

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We can imagine what a delicacy the crunchy American cereal would be, the corn pops and frosted flakes, as an addition to the breakfasts prepared for the troops in places such as Afghanistan and Kuwait. And what a reminder of home, of Mom and Dad and safe harbors the childhood favorites like Apple Jacks would be.

Some readers may have noticed that Enright’s address was not published with the article. That was with good reason.

The official policy of the U.S. Department of Defense is to discourage wholesale shipment of packages to places such as Afghanistan by anyone other than a relative or close friend of the recipient.

In October, the Department of Defense put a halt to the long-respected &8220;Operation Dear Abby&8221; and &8220;Any Servicemember&8221; mail programs. The reason? Security.

Here is an excerpt that states explicitly the department’s attitude toward mailing unsolicited letters and packages. Its implication is chilling.

&8220;Recently the Department of Defense has become aware of organizations and individuals who continue to support some form of the &8220;Any Servicemember&8221; program by using the names and addresses of individual service members and unit addresses. These programs are usually supported by well-intentioned, thoughtful and patriotic groups who are simply unaware of the new risks facing deployed military forces. Some individuals and groups publicize the names and addresses, ships or units on Web sites, with good intentions. The result, however, is a potential danger to the troops they wish to support.&8221;

The fact remains. We want to do something. If we do not have a relative or close friend to whom we might send Velveeta cheese or vitamins, what then are we to do?

Here are some suggestions that are both safe and effective.

Go to any of these Web sites to voice your support by use of virtual greeting cards and thank-you cards or by making calling card donations that will help troops to be able to call home.

If Web site action does not fulfill your urge to do something, go to a veterans hospital or nursing home to say hello to patients who may otherwise see few visitors.

Those patients are safe from swirling sand storms today, but they can relate a story or two about wars past and service to country.

Get involved in programs that honor veterans or in programs sponsored by veterans who might welcome some new volunteers. That, too, is doing something.

Joan Gandy

is community editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3549 or by e-mail at