GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE: GFAFB suggests new ways to send greetings from home

By Elisa L. Rineheart
Herald Staff Writer
Posted on Mon, Nov. 22, 2004


Grand Forks Air Force Base is asking the general public not to send unsolicited mail, care packages or donations directly to service members during the holiday season.

Instead, base officials are encouraging people to send electronic greetings to deployed airmen through especially designed communication links such as Operation Dear Abby, said Staff Sgt. Ernesto Perez, 319th Communication Squadron.

Distribution problems, and security concerns prompted by the Anthrax attacks in September 2001 - when letters containing the lethal bacteria were sent to five media offices and two U.S. Senators' offices - are some of the reasons behind the new regulation, Perez said.

"We know the general public means well," Perez said. "But we want them to understand that it causes problems, too."

Large quantities of unsolicited mail, especially anonymous packages, overwhelm postal areas and slow down official mail and delay correspondence from family and friends, he said.

Tokens of appreciation sent to deployed troops in the past include handmade miniature flags bearing thank you notes from elementary students across the country.

Some local airmen said they flew long missions over Iraq with the flags in their pockets and gave them to their loved ones when they returned home.

This holiday season, letters and care packages must be properly funneled through military support programs approved by the Department of Defense.

One of those programs is Gifts from the Homefront offered by the Army & Air Force Exchange Service. The program allows well-wishers to send gift cards to deployed airmen, said Judd Anstey, Air Force spokesperson.

Airmen can use the gift cards to purchase a wide range of products typically available at their deployed location, Anstey said.

"They use the funds to purchase CDs, DVDs, magazines, snacks and phone cards," Anstey said.

To send a gift card, log on to aafes.com or call (877) 770-4438. They can be used in 51 AAFES facilities around the world including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kuwait.

Operation USO Care Package is a similar concept. It allows supporters to sponsor a care package for a monetary donation.

Orders can be placed online, over the phone or by mailing a check to your local USO, Air Force officials said.

A prepaid international phone card is included in the care package.

For more information, about this program call (866) USO-GIVE or log on to www.usometrodc.org/care1.html#support.