Safety a concern in support for U.S. troops

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   While American troops in and around Iraq would love to receive mail and care packages from home, as the war kicks into its second week, this is not always possible.
   A spokesman with the 101st Airborne Division said that while he appreciates those who want to donate letters and care packages, at present what the troops really need are "supplies, weapons, ammunition, and food. The morale comes after we're in control."
   Because the 101st was on the move inside Iraq last week, a hold was placed on mail except from immediate family members. "We can stockpile it in Kuwait or elsewhere, but we really have no place for that" at present, he said.
   The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) issued a press release March 22, stating that the general public is urged not to send unsolicited mail, care packages or donations to service members forward deployed "unless you are a family member, loved one or personal friend."
   Due to the threat of anthrax following Sept. 11, last October the DoD suspended its practice of forwarding correspondence and personal care packages by the American public to "Any Service Member" and also suspended "Operation Dear Abby."
   "Although these programs provide an excellent means of support to friends and loved ones stationed overseas, they also provide an avenue to introduce hazardous substances or materials into the mail system from unknown sources," DoD said in the statement. "Unsolicited mail, packages and donations from organizations and individuals also compete for limited airlift space used to transport supplies, war-fighting materiel and mail from family and loved ones."
   DoD said it is aware that some organizations and individuals continue to support some form of the "Any Servicemember" program by using the names and addresses of individual servicemembers 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 of service members, ships or units on Web sites, with good intentions. The result, however, is a potential danger to the troops they wish to support," DoD said.
   Mail for the 776th can be delivered Monday through Wednesday to the National Guard Armory in Elizabethton, where it will be addressed and forwarded to the company commander. For security reasons, names of individual 776th members cannot be released.
   Packages for the 730th Tennessee Army National Guard unit out of Gray, Tenn., can be addressed to the commander and will be distributed to the unit overseas. Packages must be addressed with a soldier's individual name or it will be returned. Send packages to: CPT Chris Patterson, CDR, HHD, 13th CSB/730th QM DS Company, Unit # 93901, APO, AE 09303-3909.
   DoD recommended alternatives to mail and donation programs to show support to troops overseas. The following are recommended:
   * Log on to the following Web sites to show support, to include greeting cards, virtual Thank You cards and calling card donations to help troops stay in contact with loved ones:
   http://www.defendamerica.mil/support_troops.html
   http://www.usocares.org/home.htm
   http://www.army.mil/operations/iraq/faq.html
   * Donate a calling card to help keep service members in touch with their families at Operation Uplink http://www.operationuplink.org/
   According to the Army News Service, Americans can send "Gifts From the Homefront" CertifiChecks which are redeemable for merchandise at all Army and Air Force Exchange Service PX and base exchanges throughout the world. Details are available from the Web site (www.aafes.com) and by phone at 1-877-770-GIFT (4438).
   Donations also can be made to Fisher House, a private nonprofit 503(c)(3) organization, that supports America's military in their time of need. Fisher House Foundation donates "comfort homes," built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers, which enable family members to be close to a loved one during hospitalization. For more information go to http://www.fisherhouse.org.
   Individuals also may donate $25, which goes toward sponsorship of an Operation USO Care Package. Personal greetings may be forwarded with the contribution. USO will transcribe the message onto an official Operation USO Care Package postcard, available for preview at www.usometrodc.org.
   Corporations may make a $25 tax-deductible financial donation to support Operation USO Care Package, or may donate items listed on the "Service Members Wish List" to USO-Metro. These items must be sent in bulk from the manufacturer. For more information, contact (703) 696-2628.
   U.S. troops deployed to the Persian Gulf region also can receive messages via the pages of "Stars and Stripes." Messages of Support, a daily section that debuted March 17, gives family and friends a chance to pass along their greetings and words of support free of charge. Messages are limited to 50 words or less and can be e-mailed to messages@estripes.com.