- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

Frankie Mayo has a mission — to cool the air for as many U.S. soldiers in Iraq as she can by sending them as many as air conditioners as she can lay her hands on. What started with a single air conditioner sent to her son at the end of June has grown into Operation Air Conditioner, with tons of units being sent to the troops. It is more than just providing them a touch of comfort or a taste of home, it is about helping them avoid heatstroke and providing them comfortable sleeping conditions. But, Mrs. Mayo had 302 new air conditioners waiting to go on Friday, when the U.S. Postal Service pulled the plug.

Local and regional postal representatives ducked our inquiries yesterday. But at 4:50 Friday afternoon, Mrs. Mayo was told by a bureaucrat in an air-conditioned office at Delaware’s Wilmington Distribution Center that it would no longer ship the air conditioners because they contain freon, which is listed as a class 2 compressed gas.

Postmaster General John Potter ought to be alerted to this by phone (202/268-2020), fax (202/268-5211) or e-mail (www.usps.com/common/contact_us/ and click on consumer feedback).

The USPS is incredibly belated in its sudden discovery. After all, Mrs. Mayo had already sent 425 air conditioners to the long-suffering soldiers with nary a comment, much less a holdup. Neither the blue-suits in USPS headquarters in Washington nor the brass at the Pentagon had complained. In fact, soldiers have been deluging Mrs. Mayo with requests.

What might be passed off as bureaucratic bloody-mindedness appears even more malicious, since USPS freon shipping restrictions don’t apply if either the machine or its components contain less than 12 kilograms of the compressed gas. That is the case with the small units being sent out by Operation Air Conditioner. According to Remie Danielson, president and owner of Logistics Inc., a Baltimore-based shipping company, he would be comfortable shipping the machines out under those regulations.

That USPS actions have kept troops suffering is bad enough. However, the USPS actions have had a chilling effect on anxious donors, too. Diane Anderson of Gladwin, Mich., whose son served in Operation Desert Storm, was attempting to round up eight air conditioners but has paused her plans until the shipping situation is resolved. “This is just crazy,” she said.

Blessedly, Mr. Danielson has agreed to ship 400 of the units out next week at a reduced rate. That they are going out is a tribute to Mrs. Mayo’s determination to get the air conditioners to Iraq regardless of rain, sleet, hail or the entire post office bureaucracy. As she wrote in an e-mail, “We must cut through any red tape to get them what they need. Period. No excuses or delays. Delays are costing American soldiers lives. I will not accept failure as it is not an option for me nor my family.”