WASHINGTON – Marty Horn thought he was helping American soldiers in Iraq when he set up a Web site for people who want to send them care packages.
Little did the La Plata man know that his site, anysoldier.us, would raise the ire of the Pentagon.
Since Sept. 11, the Pentagon has said it will not deliver care packages to soldiers marked “any soldier,” a traditional gesture of wartime patriotism that officials now say poses a security risk and burdens the military mail system.
Horn, whose son is serving in Iraq, skirts that policy by posting addresses of individual soldiers on his site. They can then take any care packages they receive and distribute them to other soldiers who do not get mail from home.
“For those who don’t want to work through a middle man, the site is the only option,” Horn said.
A Defense Department spokeswoman said Horn’s heart is in the right place, but there are plenty of other ways people can help the soldiers without putting them at risk. Army Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said people can donate blood to the Red Cross or give their airline miles to Operation Hero Miles, a program that helps soldiers cover the cost of flying home for personal emergencies.
There are also the middlemen Horn referred to: The Veterans of Foreign Wars, for example, will take donations from schools and businesses and send them to units they have adopted overseas. VFW spokesman Jerry Newberry said that is safer than the “any soldier” tradition.
“Anybody could send a package to Joe Schmoe and God knows what could be in it,” Newberry said.
Not only does publishing military addresses on the Internet open soldiers up for mail attacks, but Campbell said it burdens the system. She said the military approximates the amount of mail each group of soldiers will receive and staffs mailrooms accordingly.
“If Sgt. John Q. Smith is getting an inordinate amount, it backs things up,” she said.
But as much as the Pentagon does not like Horn’s site, Campbell said there is nothing the government can do except encourage folks not to use it.
Horn, 51, isn’t buying into the security fears. The retired military police officer refuses to shut his site down. While he concedes that putting soldiers’ addresses on the Internet might put them at risk, he said that is nothing compared to the risk they face walking the streets of Iraq every day.
And the idea that care packages are backing up the mail is an example of military bureaucracy at its worst, he said.
“They are going to blame Americans for keeping them too busy?” Horn asked. “Well excuse me, but when was the last time your boss let you complain about being too busy?”
Horn, who designs Web sites for a living, built his site last August as a way for family members and La Plata neighbors to help soldiers fighting with his son, Sgt Brian Horn, 23, a member of the Army’s 173rd Airborne deployed in Iraq.
Soon after the site went live, Horn was interviewed by a radio station in North Carolina and “it freakin’ went through the roof.”
Since August, there have been over 100,000 visitors, some of whom have supplied troops with everything from candy bars to radio equipment. Horn expanded the site to include other Army divisions in Iraq and expects to include addresses for soldiers in Afghanistan soon.
Horn said soldiers can also request items. Donations have helped supply a field hospital and an Iraqi orphanage, he said.
“Some old Special Forces guy from North Carolina put together 24 wheelchairs and sent them over,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to know that people like this are on your side.”
Horn said answering e-mail from the site has become a full-time job, but he hopes to expand to include the Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Horn said it is the least he can do for his son and other soldiers — short of joining them: “If he could make room in his truck I would do it.”
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