Christmas Is Coming Early For Troops in Saudi Arabia

PALLETS of cookies. Facial moisturizing spray. Folding cardboard sun screens, canned sardines, and 10,000 ``Archie'' comic books. High-visibility footballs, solar survival lighters, and 163 cases of toilet paper from the Arizona Air National Guard. All these items and more, many more, have been donated to the Pentagon for the United States troops involved in Operation Desert Shield. Packed in giant, containerized care packages, they'll wing their way to Saudi Arabia in time for a bit of holiday morale boosting.

Well, maybe not ``wing.'' Most will go by ship, a 30-day journey that plays havoc with perishables. Store-bought cookies generally survive. Aunt May's special chocolate chunk squares may not. ``It's the homemade ones. They spoil,'' says Lt. Col. Henry Wyatt, a spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).

Desert Shield donations from concerned citizens and firms generally break down into three categories: things to deal with the desert, things to fight boredom, and things to eat.

So far, desert items include 5,000 beach chairs from a manufacturer in Raleigh, N.C., enough suntan lotion to fill a tanker truck, and, for those extra-dry days, 28,000 bottles of facial mist.

Then there are the sun shields, the folding cardboard screens that many people affix to their car windshields when parked. The US military has long used shields for troop carriers, helicopters, and planes parked in the baking Western US sun. So CarCool Company of Westlake Village, Calif., whose president claims invention of the concept, is sending the troops more than 35,000 folding screens, free.

Because of Saudi sensibilities, CarCool had to censor its screen models. Those printed with pictures of hot-air balloons, giant sunglasses, etc., were OK. ``We didn't ship them any with bikinis on them,'' says John Weir, a CarCool spokesman.

Boredom is a big problem for troops deployed anywhere. In Saudi Arabia, with little local entertainment, it's a particular problem for US troops.

Thousands of audio and video cassettes are among the donations DLA has received so far. Paperback books and magazines are big, too, though donors have to be careful of material or pictures that could offend Saudi hosts. The exploits of all-American high-schoolers are OK - hence the gift of 10,000 ``Archie'' comics by Donna Block of Mamaronec, N.Y.

Sports equipment is in big demand by the troops, and they'll be getting everything from portable basketball goals to Frisbees from the College Football Hall of Fame, to 12 Nordic Track exercisers. Games, from console video models to board games, are also big. A New York firm is sending 100 copies of its new Abalone game, a sort of combination of chess and chinese checkers.

``You try to push your opponent out of territory, which is sort of like what they're talking about doing over there,'' says Matthew Marinai, vice-president of Abalone.

Considering the nature of military meals, food gifts are popular items. Donations so far lean to the snack-food side of the spectrum: popcorn, lollipops, pretzels, peanuts, etc. On the way are cookies from the New York public schools, 100,000 boxes of baseball cookies from Bob Sargent of San Rafael, Calif., and 48 pallets of Nabisco Brand Oreos.

Down East way they're getting ready to send the troops canned seafood. ``We have a sardine and what we call a fish steak item,'' says Diana Young of Stinson Seafood in Prospect Harbor, Maine. Customers in Maine stores are being urged to sign sardine-can sized cards, which will be affixed to Stinson products and shipped to the Gulf.

Live lobsters were one of the donations the Pentagon had to turn down. Live Christmas trees were another. ``They'd have been dead by the time they got there,'' says Lt. Col. Wyatt of the DLA.

The Pentagon has set up a hot line for anyone who wants to make a Desert Shield donation that's too large to simply mail. The number is 703-274-3561. Donors should be willing to pay shipping to an East or West Coast collection point.

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