It was just outside the USO Center at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport that I met Airman First Class Dustin Brown, newly arrived for 30 days respite from Kuwait. When I asked if hed be heading home for this interval he shook his head. "Wish I could, maam; but Im due at my airbase tonight."
Inside the Center, meanwhile, I could just glimpse the backs of some other service-people. I asked the volunteer at the desk what I had to do to get inside and say hi.
"Enlist!" she barked. "Think of it as a recruiting inducement," she added mischievously.
But if I couldnt speak with those young soldiers, I could and did have an hour with Andrea Hoshmand, who had come here expressly to tell me about something so wonderful she and Chrissy Honeywell do for our troops I knew I had to write about it here.
They run Operation Paperback, an organization responsible for sending gently-used soft-cover books to American military personnel deployed in 23 countries, as well as to hospitals both overseas and stateside, including Willford Hall, the Air Forces crack medical center at Lackland AFB in Texas, to which people from every branch of the service come for care.
Chrissys husband, who fought in the First Gulf War, died at Willford Hall 18 months ago.
It was when he was stationed in Kuwait in 1998 that Chrissys dad Dan Bowers got the notion to start sending books over. Thus began Operation Paperback.
Andrea, a military spouse herself, goes to graduate school and works for a certain project under the U.S Agency for International Development, which studies the bases for economic growth and democratic development in fragile and failing states. Daily, for no pay and on their own time both she and Chrissy, now the widowed mother of two young children, manage "Op Paper" as they call it, fielding hundreds of emails from people wishing to learn where they might send books.
Its a labor of love; and one the women feel more than rewarded for when the chaplains to whom much of the material is directed "bump those cartons down on the ground at a Mail Drop. Its like Christmas morning, they tell us."
So what kinds of books do our soldiers yearn for?
"Any kind, except romances and teeny-bopper novels," Andrea says. "Thrillers, mysteries - even classics. Joke books, game books, puzzle books " And they love it when people scatter in packages of Skittles, or other commercially-sealed bags of hard candy. "Doritos too. And any kind of powdered drink mix. I mean, they have water over there in the desert, but, well, it tastes pretty bad."
As Chrissys dad had told me in an earlier e-mail, there is no headquarters, embarkation point or warehouse to Operation Paperback. Rather it is an organization of several hundred individual citizens and small groups linked by the Internet, almost none of whom have ever met. "Our warehouse exists in the hundreds of garages, basements, and living rooms of our members, our shipping department in their kitchen tables and at their local Post Offices."
Learning this is what made me want to go to Baltimore and meet Andrea in the first place. Its also what made me decide to donate 40 copies each of cartons of the two books I myself have written in the hopes that they might bring smiles to the faces of others like A1C Dustin Brown, 23, of Bruin PA (pop. 534.)
Why not visit http://operationpaperback.usmilitarysupport.org/ or write Andrea at ahoshmand at comcast.net yourself?
Get the newest addresses. Then scare up a sturdy carton, some snack food and however many wholesome interesting paperbacks you can spare.
Listen to Terry tell about how to send used paperbacks to our troops. Listen
Chrissy and Andrea of Operation Paperback need have this important message for all who would like to help:
We have lots of new volunteers and lots of books, but not so many troop addresses. What we really need is to get the word out to people so that they will add their loved ones to our mailing list. We have capacity to serve hundreds upon hundreds of individuals. We have volunteers who have been willing to drop books at their local National Guard units in case people are concerned about having to mail the books themselves.
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