ANNAPOLIS – George Jackson, a Maryland resident known to U.S. soldiers around the world as Santa for his costumed deliveries, is convinced that 11 massive goodwill scrolls intended for troops in Iraq are missing. Jackson, of American Corner, began dressing as Santa in 1979 as a volunteer for holiday events. He started to play Santa for the Maryland National Guard in the early 80’s.
The idea of sending scrolls came to him in 1995, when U.S. soldiers were stationed in Bosnia. Since then, he’s delivered about 70 scrolls, always dressed as Santa when he drops them off at Dover Air Force Base.
He usually receives a tidal wave of gratitude for his efforts — e-mails fill his box and letters arrive soon after delivery.
But three months after he delivered 11 scrolls to Dover, all more than 500 feet long and containing at least 80,000 signatures and addresses, Jackson says he’s received no thank-you messages and hasn’t heard from anyone who has.
“I’ve let thousands of people down,” Jackson said this week. “I lay awake at night thinking I should have stayed on top of this.”
Jackson said that if the scrolls made it to the troops, the chances of not receiving any replies would be “almost impossible.”
But Air Force Lt. Col. Jon Anderson disagreed.
“I can’t see why it wouldn’t have gotten out this time,” he said. “We’re absolutely, positively inundated with goodwill gestures . . . There’s so much I think we’re kind of overwhelmed.”
Mountains of cards, cookies and other gifts poured into the Persian Gulf this summer, he said.
Anderson also said many troops couldn’t contact Jackson even if they wanted to because they are stationed in dusty tents with no telephone or e-mail access.
“I’m positive they’re up somewhere, probably with a ground unit,” Anderson said.
Jackson said that he is not angry about the scrolls.
“Lt. Col. Anderson is my friend,” he said. Yet he is dedicated to solving the mystery of their location.
“It would be wrong on my part to drop the effort to find them,” he said.
Jackson contacted U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, and asked for help locating the scrolls. Gilchrest’s office has organized events on Capitol Hill for members of Congress and the public to sign the scrolls.
“We have asked the Defense Department to try to investigate what happened to the scrolls,” said Tony Caligiuri, Gilchrest’s chief of staff.
Caligiuri said Air Force policy had changed within the last 18 months, and general delivery of gifts to soldiers is no longer accepted. Santa’s scrolls, he said, were exceptions.
Jackson will return to Capitol Hill Sept. 17 with more scrolls to sign, but it’s unclear whether the Air Force will continue to deliver them.
Anderson said he’d love to continue to work with Jackson, but recommended sending the scrolls by mail instead of delivering them to Dover.
“I don’t think our current methods are going to be as effective as mailing them,” Anderson wrote in an e-mail to Jackson this month.
“I’d rather keep going through Dover,” Jackson said.
When Jackson delivered the scrolls in question to Dover on June 5, things did not go as smoothly as usual. He arrived dressed as Santa, but said the guards searched him and ran his driver’s license through the computer.
“It was a nightmare,” Jackson said. “They were on top of Santa like crazy.”
The search, said Anderson, was ordinary base security.
“He’s always searched at the gate,” Anderson said. On Christmas Day 2002, Jackson sat at his computer from 2 a.m. until 10 a.m. answering e-mails from troops who read the scrolls. That’s why he’s so surprised that he hasn’t heard back from anyone who’s seen his summer scrolls.
“They may just be sitting somewhere,” perhaps waiting to be opened at Christmas, he said.