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The Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, WV) March 31, 2003

Packages contain critical comforts

By Robert C. Withers

KENOVA - It all started with ChapStick. The need is critical for military people in the Persian Gulf, what with the sandstorms, wind and all.

From that, Lizbeth Lockhart has developed quite a list of items that she's mobilizing Ceredo and Kenova churches, businesses and individuals to gather up for those involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom - everything from Beef Jerky and powdered drink mixes to fingernail files.

Lockhart had sent an e-mail to her niece, Staff Sgt. Rachael Watkins of the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, and was surprised to learn how frantic she and her colleagues are to receive items that the folks on the home front take for granted.

"They want air fresheners to sit around or hang up," Lockhart says. "They sit in their tents for days at a time without the chance to take baths. They're sick of their own smell."

They want soap, too - any brand will do, but they prefer Irish Spring or any "smelly" kind, Lockhart says.

Most of Watkins' unit, which is based at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, sleeps in tents while in the Gulf region. Watkins herself sleeps in a trailer, since she is in charge of the unit's computers and they must be kept free of sand and dust. But even under those circumstances, Watkins awoke one morning with sand in her nose.

Shopping, as you might imagine, is no picnic in those conditions.

"There are too many people here, and the lines to the BX (Base Exchange) are like a two- or three-hour wait," she wrote to Lockhart five days before the war started. "We are not allowed to go off base, and we all started buying stuff online - but now we can't even do that."

The troops want letters and boxes of assorted greeting cards that they can send home to their loved ones on birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, says Lockhart, who is determined to ignore military requests that large shipments of materials not be sent by individuals. "And they especially want phone cards. They're allowed two 10-minute calls per week if circumstances allow, but some of the soldiers don't have the cash."

Watkins is the mother of two girls, aged 4 and 2. Her husband also is stationed at Nellis, but is in the process of relocating the family to McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kan.

The Kenova Police Department, several churches in Ceredo and Kenova and a few businesses are serving as drop-off points for the goods.

The Rev. Ron McClung, pastor of First Baptist Church of Kenova, says the church plans to begin mailing packages by the middle of next week and is raising money to pay for postage - which he estimates at $12 a box.

"We're all just trying to pitch in," he says. "Everybody we run into has a connection over there; I find people very receptive."

Lockhart says people need a contact name to send materials.

"We will ship to Rachael," she says. "When she sees our return address, she will know the stuff's for everybody and turn it over to the chaplain for distribution. We're trying to get the whole area to contribute to this; hopefully we can end up with a surplus that we can send to other bases."


Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch

Pastor Ron McClung of First Baptist Church of Kenova and Lizbeth Lockhart of Kenova sort through donated items that will be packaged and shipped to soldiers in the Persian Gulf.

Dissenting view

Master Sgt. Richard Covington, the public affairs officer at Nellis Air Force Base, is politely asking people to ignore back-channel efforts to send "care packages" to troops in the Iraqi conflict.

"People mean well, but it's clogging up the system," he says. "It's like, 'I want bullets and I'm getting soap.' "

The Department of Defense has asked the public not to send unsolicited mail, care packages or donations to forward-deployed service members unless they are a family member, loved one or personal friend.

The government already has suspended the "Operation Dear Abby" and "Any Servicemember" mail programs because of force protection concerns. Although they provide 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.

Unsolicited mail, packages and donations from organizations and individuals also compete for limited airlift space used to transport supplies, war-fighting material and mail from family and loved ones.

Covington acknowledges the good intentions of those involved.

"But you've got to look at what we're trying to get over there right now," he says. "It's more appropriate to let the Red Cross do it because they work with the individual units."

Covington suggests that folks who want to help have bake sales or other fund-raisers and give the proceeds to the Air Force Aid Society or some other military charity.

To show support to troops overseas, the DOD suggests that people:

Log on to the following Web sites to show support - including greeting cards, virtual thank-you cards and calling-card donations - to help troops stay in contact with loved ones: www.defendamerica.mil/support_troops.html, www.usocares.org/home.htm and www.army.mil/operations/iraq/faq.html.

Visit Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, hospitals and nursing homes.

Volunteer services to honor veterans who served in past conflicts.

Mail from family members and loved ones has always been encouraged, and the military mail system will continue to work hard to get that mail to service members overseas, officials say.

Prayer effort

Dave Calvert, store manager of Family Christian Stores in the Huntington Mall and a member of River Cities Community Church, says his prayer effort on behalf of American military personnel involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom has drawn the names of 29 service personnel and seven prayer partners so far.

There are two ways to participate in the program:

Submit the name of a person for whom you want prayer at the store, along with his or her branch of service.

Ask a sales associate for the name of a military person for whom you will pray for the next 30 days.

"We would ask that you pick five minutes in your day - maybe before or after a meal - to pray for your soldier, his or her family and our nation's leaders," Calvert says. "We will have submitted names of all of the military personnel listed on one of the stars hanging from the ceiling."

Participants will receive a free brochure, "A Christian's Duty in Time of War," by Dr. Charles Stanley at In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, Ga.

"We need to pray because God urges us in the Scriptures to do so," Calvert says, citing 1 Timothy 2:1-3. "His desire is that we lead quiet and peaceful lives."

Call (304) 733-0743 between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Other community outreach programs include:

WAYNE WAL-MART, 100 McGinnis Drive, which has put up a "Freedom Tree." Families are posting pictures of and information about military personnel serving overseas - there are eight of them so far - so customers can buy gifts to send them.

TOM'S FLOWERS AND THINGS, 917 8th St., which is giving away yellow ribbons, as long as they last, to show support for the troops. Owner Tom Hatten already has had to reorder

HUNTINGTON AREA ACLU and the CITY OF HUNTINGTON, which will have a panel discussion about the Patriot Act in City Council chambers at City Hall at noon today.

RIVER CITIES COMMUNITY CHURCH, 4385 U.S. 60 East, which is conducting "A Call to Care" service at 7 p.m. today. Woody Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor winner from West Virginia, will speak and 100 blue-star banners will be distributed to families who have an immediate family member in the military.

HOWARD P. HALL POST 1064, VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS, 920 7th Ave., which is having a yard sale to raise funds to buy Operation Uplink phone cards for service people from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 5.

MOREHEAD STATE UNIVERSITY, which is sponsoring a talk by historian Howard Zinn on war and terrorism in Duncan Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 14.

On the Web

To find out more about First Baptist Church of Kenova, log on to www.firstbaptistonline.org. To learn more about the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait, visit www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/ali-al-salem.htm. Rachael Watkins' e-mail address is Rachael.Watkins@salem.af.mil, but don't always expect a response.

Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch

Pastor Ron McClung of First Baptist Church and Lizbeth Lockhart, both of Kenova, sort through items that will be packaged and shipped to soldiers in the Persian Gulf.

Copyright 2003, The Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, WV)