WASHINGTON – Children from the St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen sent care packages when American soldiers were in Kosovo, but the students have sent nothing but prayers to U.S. troops in Iraq.
It’s not that the students don’t want to send care packages this time around. It’s because the Defense Department has asked them not to.
The Pentagon is once again urging school, church and other groups not to send unsolicited mail, care packages or donations to service members deployed overseas, unless the soldier is a family member or personal friend.
It follows the Defense Department’s decision in October to cancel popular correspondence programs such as “Operation Dear Abby” and “Any Servicemember,” because of what the United Service Organizations said were concerns that anthrax could be spread through the mail.
But unsolicited mail has continued to flow. The mail has overwhelmed the USO, said Donna St. John, spokeswoman for the organization that works to boost morale of U.S. troops around the globe.
“People are looking for something very tangible they can do. They want us to send a package but we can’t,” St. John said.
Instead, she suggested well-wishers send electronic messages of support, saying people can find links and form letters at web sites such as http://OperationDearAbby.net and www.defendamerica.mil.
Roger C. Bultman, chief of staff of the Military Order of the World Wars, said his patriotic education organization has been hit by stacks of handwritten letters from schoolchildren whose teachers have asked him to deliver the personal messages.
“I can’t deliver them,” said Bultman, who served in Vietnam.
The Defense Department cites “force protection” as the primary reason for the mail ban, saying in a March 22 release that mail from anonymous groups provides an avenue to deliver hazardous materials. The release also said that unsolicited mail takes up “limited airlift space used to transport supplies, war-fighting material and mail from family.”
But Bultman said a class can still send letters and packages to the troops if one student has a family member who has been deployed. Students at the Holy Redeemer School in College Park, for example, sent their care package off with a military pilot who had a relative at the school, according to officials with the Archdiocese of Washington.
Still, Bultman lamented the change that terrorism has had on society.
“In the future, they (schoolchildren) won’t even understand what it was like to sit down and write a letter to `Dear Joe.’ It’s a different kind of war,” he said.