- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

AMERICAN CORNER, Md. In wartime and peacetime, American soldiers, sailors and airmen are sent to all corners of the world to defend freedom and protect our nation's interests.
But at Christmas time each year, the thoughts and thanks of many of those troops are directed at a small, rural crossroads in Maryland known, appropriately enough, as American Corner.
Each year, from his tiny home here, a plump, jovial man who spends much of his time in a heavy, red suit and big, black boots brings people together to create holiday greeting cards that are hundreds of feet long.
George Jackson enlists the help of thousands of Maryland and Delaware residents to sign scrolls at schools, churches and shopping malls. The scrolls are delivered to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, then flown overseas to hang in mess halls, barracks and other gathering areas on military bases and Navy ships.
This year, most of the scrolls are being sent to what Air Force officials describe as "undisclosed locations" in support of troops serving in Operation Enduring Freedom.
"We have people everywhere now," said Maj. Jon Anderson, spokesman for Dover Air Force Base. "We're sending scrolls to the [Persian] Gulf. We're sending some to the Balkans, we're sending a couple to [the air base at] Diego Garcia."
Mr. Jackson delivered 11 scrolls to Dover this year, the most ever.
"It's work, but it's work with a big reward," he said. "I know I'm putting a smile on a face."
Mr. Jackson, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1967 but was honorably discharged after just a few weeks because of his poor vision, said Americans owe a huge debt to their servicemen and women.
"There's no word that can describe what they're doing for us," he said. "Without them, where would our freedom be?"
Mr. Jackson, who works as a tire changer and sells newspaper subscriptions, has played Santa Claus at schools, hospitals, churches and nursing homes for more than 20 years. He peppers his speech with a frequent, soft "ho, ho, ho."
Last week, he donned his Santa suit before going out to his garden to dig for turnips, which he passes out to kids to leave for reindeer on Christmas Eve, so they don't eat Santa's snacks.
"He really is into the role," Maj. Anderson said. "The only time I really see him dropping character is when he starts talking about all the people he's met, all the kids he's talked to, all the veterans."
Mr. Jackson got the idea for the scrolls in 1995 while watching a television news report about a Thanksgiving dinner in Germany for troops being deployed to Bosnia.
"All of a sudden, I thought about the roll of paper we had in the closet to put down for painting," he recalled. "I just got to thinking about a giant Christmas card."
That weekend, he took the roll of paper to the local National Guard armory. The scroll became an immediate hit, drawing people from throughout the region and as far away as Western Maryland.
"It took on a life of its own," Mr. Jackson said.
The only problem was, he had no idea how to get it to the troops overseas.
Mr. Jackson enlisted the help of Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, Maryland Republican, and on Dec. 14, 1995, the first scroll was delivered to the commander of Dover Air Force Base. The commander turned to an airman, handed him the scroll and said, "Bosnia, tonight."
"All of the sudden, the weight of the world was off my shoulders," Mr. Jackson said.
Since then, the scrolls have been signed by thousands of people and enjoyed by thousands of troops. The scrolls contain everything from simple greetings to letters, poems and drawings. The shortest, about 263 feet long, was sent to Africa in 1997. The longest, at 873 feet almost the length of three football fields, was sent last year to the aircraft carrier USS Constellation.
Military officials said the scrolls may be even more important to the troops this year than in previous years. Prompted by the anthrax scare and the possibility of more terrorist attacks, the Pentagon suspended two traditional morale-boosting programs for troops, the "Operation Dear Abby" holiday greetings program and the "Any Service Member" letter-writing campaign.
In both programs, Americans without a specific service member to write to could send postcards or letters to a central post office box, and the letters would be distributed randomly to troops.
More than 30,000 soldiers have been sent to the Gulf as part of the campaign in Afghanistan. Given the safety concerns, the Pentagon said it was not prepared to move a large amount of mail.
"This was really one of the most sanitized things we could get to everybody," Dave Collins, a chief master sergeant at Dover, said of the scrolls. "We didn't have to send it through the normal system."
The Navy also has developed a Web-based alternative for the "Dear Abby" and "Any Service Member" campaigns. People can log onto the Navy LIFELines Services Network Web site, https://www.LIFELines2000.org, to send messages to people serving in all branches of the military.

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