- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

Through the efforts of Frankie Mayo and the generosity of supporters, almost 2,000 air conditioners have been sent to the troops in Iraq, in addition to medical supplies and other items of aid and comfort. However, Operation Air Conditioner appears on the verge of being tied up in red tape again, and this time by the Department of Defense.

The Defense Department airlifted one plane load of air conditioners to Iraq earlier this month, shortly after the U.S. Postal Service said it no longer would ship the AC units. Another 500 have been donated since then, but they are sitting on a donated tractor-trailer because the Defense officials won’t tell Mrs. Mayo from which military base the air conditioners will be shipped.

There appear to be several concurrent problems. The first is one of prioritization: No one in Defense appears to know where the donated air conditioners fit into the shipping hierarchy. Mrs. Mayo was told that her air conditioners are “clogging up the military postal system.” However, that begs the question: What are the priorities? Bullets and body armor are clearly more important for the troops in the field, but Mrs. Mayo’s care packages — which have been requested by enlisted troops and officers alike — should fit in somewhere.

That problem of setting priorities points to another problem: There does not appear to be a person at a high enough level within the military to manage Mrs. Mayo’s project. She was told by the Defense Logistics Agency that the blessing of a higher-up might be sufficient to get the air conditioners over to Iraq. However, it is not clear who that person is, or what the nature of that needed blessing might be. Moreover, the logistics agency almost never handles such matters, since its normal function is simply to fill procurement orders. We heard similar stories from other parts of the Defense Department, and no one seems to be certain where the buck stops as far as Operation Air Conditioner is concerned.

Operation Air Conditioner (www.operationac.com.) has given comfort to U.S. troops that cannot be counted in dollars. Not content to simply ship air conditioners, Mrs. Mayo is planning on procuring space heaters for the troops this winter, and she just made a deal with a company to buy desert boots for soldiers at a deep discount. Giving her consistent help — even if it is simply taking a plane load of donated supplies a month — is the least that the Defense Department could do.

There is sufficient capability and enough good will to break through this impasse. The Pentagon should find a way to make it happen.

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