A reader asks: 'How can I help?'

By Ben Arnoldy

"I'm a veteran of the Vietnam War, and know what it's like to be waiting in that vacuum. My question is: What can readers do to get 'care packages' to the servicemen and servicewomen over there? What is most important?" - C. Jeppeson, Chandler, Az.

A lot of readers have been asking this question. It turns out the Pentagon discourages people from sending packages, unless they are addressed to a specific friend or family member in the service.

In past conflicts, well-wishers could address a letter or a package to "any servicemember" and it would be distributed. After the anthrax attacks following Sept. 11, 2001, the US Postal Service and the Department of Defense revised the rule.

"It's really nice and we appreciate it," a Pentagon spokeswoman said this week. "But we have to make sure that we consider the safety of the soldiers and the men and women who are deployed, so the policy remains in effect." A lot of people inquire about sending packages when Girl Scout cookies come out and around Christmas and Valentine's Day, she said.

But you can still help the troops. The DOD has set up a website with various options for helping or communicating with servicemembers. The URL is www.defendamerica.mil/support_troops.html. You can send e-mails through a "Dear Abby" program, as well as donate money to purchase phone cards so that troops can call home.

If you know a servicemember

If you know a servicemember and are wondering what they might need, send basic necessities and small items that will help pass the time.

2nd Lt. Christina Hoggatt, public affair officer at an air base, offers these suggestions.

r Toiletries, such as toothbrushes and soap. "The military doesn't provide [soldiers] toothbrushes and toothpaste," says Hoggatt. "You can buy it at the BX (base exchange), but a lot of times you get really busy."

• Chapstick and sunblock (above 30 SPF).

• Thick, black hiking socks. (They need to be thick to prevent feet from blistering.)

• Snack food. Microwave popcorn is always a big hit, as well as "snack packs" of Goldfish crackers and pre-packaged dehydrated soups.

• Magazines. The most popular topics are sports, entertainment, and military. Suggestions included Sports Illustrated, Readers Digest, and Entertainment Weekly.

• Playing cards or any type of games. Yahtzee remains popular.

• Air fresheners.

If you want to help Iraqi civilians

Those inclined to philanthropy may also wish to look into helping Iraqi civilians who will be caught in the middle of any war. The International Rescue Committee is estimating that a million or more Iraqis could seek refuge in neighboring countries. The organization says that approximately 60 percent of the Iraqi population already relies on food rations.

To help, you can donate to the following relief agencies:

The International Rescue Committee

http://www.theirc.org/

1-877-733-8433

Feed the Children

P.O. Box 36

Oklahoma City, OK 73101

http://www.christianity.com/feedthechildren

Mercy Corps

Iraq Emergency Fund

Dept. W

P.O. Box 2669

Portland, OR 97208

1-800-292-3355 x250

http://www.mercycorps.org

Editor's note: csmonitor.com reporter Ben Arnoldy is on assignment in Kuwait as part of the Pentagon's program "embedding" journalists with troops involved in the expected invasion of Iraq. His reporting is collected in the web special project Assignment: Kuwait (http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/kuwait/).

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