By Ed Brock
Mary Lou Austin and her volunteers at the USO Center in Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport are doing what they can to keep the military service personnel deployed in the Middle East well supplied with "morale items."
That includes playing cards, candy, disposable cameras, DVDs, toothbrushes, deodorant, lip balm, international phone calling cards, notepaper and pens and Tic Tacs.
"They love those breath mints," Austin said.
Wet wipes are also appreciated, said USO volunteer Peggy Osse said.
"A lot of them can't shower so at least they can wipe off," Osse said.
There's nothing new about the USO program, Austin said. In fact, they give the goodie-bags to any soldier about to be deployed overseas, many of whom pass through the airport.
"We have troops in Kuwait, we have troops in Bosnia that need our support," Austion said. "We've always done this program, but now even more so."
Contributing to programs like "Operation Goodie Bags" and "USO Care Package" may be the best way for citizens to show their support directly for the troops in light of the suspension of programs like "Operation Dear Abby" and "Any Servicemember."
"The most recent information (the Department of Defense) has given us is for the most part to discourage mailing," said Michael Miles, spokesman for the Postal Service in Atlanta. "That's the biggest difference this time around is that those services have been discontinued."
The restriction on mail from people who are not family or loved ones of soldiers is necessary because it might allow hazardous substances to be sent to the troops, according to the Department of Defense. Also, unsolicited mail competes for limited airlift space needed to transport supplies and mail from loved ones.
Instead, the department encourages patriotic well-wishers to send virtual greetings through Web sites like www.defendamerica.mil/support_troops.html, www.usocares.org/home.htm and www.army.mil/operations/iraq/faq.html.
They can also visit Veterans Affairs hospitals and nursing homes, help the families of military personnel in their area or make donations to programs like the USO.
Those donations to the USO can be of money or items. Items that are donated must be in their original commercial packages and can be put in a clear Ziploc bag with good wishes from the donor.
The donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 20963, Atlanta, GA 30320 or delivered to Suite 320, Terminal Atrium, Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta, GA 30320.
For more information on donating to the USO programs call (404) 761-8061.