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When yellow ribbons aren't enough

Program advises people stateside on how to send provisions to soldiers

by Jacqueline Watts

editor@baltimoreguide.com

When Nan Rohrer sent out an email asking for donations to send care packages to a platoon of infantrymen in Iraq, she didnít know what to expect. Many, if not most, of her friends oppose Operation Enduring Freedom, a.k.a. the war in Iraq. "Whether you support the war or not, I strongly believe we should support our young men and women who are defending our country," she wrote.

She neednít have worried. Fifty people responded. She and friend Mitchell Whiteman raised $1,800, and a small cadre of women started baking. By the end of September the group had shipped 19 boxes crammed with baby wipes, brownies, lip balm, foot powder, animal crackers, insect repellent, magazines, comics, powdered drink mix, eye drops, games, dental floss, a couple of Frisbees, shaving cream, a Nerf football and a whoopee cushion, an impulse purchase at the dollar store.

The goods went to a U.S. Army infantry tank platoon of 19 men headed by Arthur Swarthout, a 27-year-old first lieutenant and high school classmate of Whitemanís. Swarthout emailed Whiteman in August, sending his regrets for a class reunion. "Iím tied up right now," he wrote.

He and his platoon were engaged in dodging roadside bombs and covering supply convoys in the 120-degree heat in Baghdad.

What Rohrer, a Canton resident who attracts new retail business for the Downtown Partnership, found out is there is pent-up demand for an opportunity to show support for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, no matter what your position on the war. "Bumper stickers and yellow ribbons donít cut it for most people," she says.

The Department of Defense complicated matters by banning care packages sent to "Any Service Member," an American tradition in wartime up through the first Iraq war. DoD cited security concerns in banning the packages, and suggested donations to the USO and Red Cross.

Martin Horn, a retired Army sergeant from La Plata, Maryland, has found a legal way around the DoD regulations and had published instructions on a website, http://anysoldier.com. While the Hornsí son, Brian, was stationed with the 173rd Airborne Brigade near Kirkuk, they kept him supplied with frequent care packages. Brian wrote back and mentioned that many of his friends were getting nothing from the States.

Martin and Susan Horn (herself an Army veteran) enlisted some friends and sent more packages. They set up a code: Packages for Brian Horn, and then on the second address line, Attn. Any Soldier, were to be passed around. Packages for Brian Horn with no other note were for him alone. The code worked, and it was a hit in the 173rd.

When Brian was rotated out of Iraq last winter, he asked a few friends to take over the duty of accepting and passing around the packages sent from home. Just before Christmas last year, there were seven men acting as package proxies, or "contacts," as Horn calls them-but soon the number grew, and then it grew exponentially.

Martin and Susan Horn emailed friends and relatives, asking for donations. Then Martin, who knows a bit about database management and HTML coding, set up his website. On January 1, he announced that the website, http://anysoldier.com, would begin to support any service member in a combat zone.

The Horns, with some pro bono legal advice from a Washington law firm, formed Any Soldier Inc., a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization, which owns and runs anysoldier.com.

For anyone who wants to send a package to fighting men and women in Afghanistan or Iraq, anysoldier.com is easy to navigate and understand. On the left hand side of the site, click on contacts from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. That brings up a short message from the contact, usually a platoon leader, company commander or chaplain, with a greeting and short list of things the troops need. The greeting includes the contactís APO address.

A group of links across the top of the site unravels the mysteries of customs forms, military post offices, what to send, how to send it, and what to tell the US Postal Service customer service rep who insists that sending a package "Attn. Any Soldier" is illegal.

"It is NOT illegal," says Martin Horn. "There is no regulation that says you canít send a package this way. There is a lot of misinformation out there."

Sending goods does not need to be the production that Rohrer and Whiteman organized-single packages are just as gratefully received in the combat zones as shipments for an entire platoon. Shopping, packing and shipping occupied a good 12 to 15 hours of Rohrerís, and a friendís, time one weekend; shopping, packing and shipping a small package to a single service member should take a couple of hours, tops.

There are some restrictions, however. Absolutely no alcohol is allowed. No girlie magazines or tapes. Disposable razors are OK; razor blades are not, but refill blade cartridges for popular razors like Gillette and Schick are OK. Aerosol cans, including shave cream, are not OK. Guns and ammo are not OK. Pork and pork by-products are not OK.

By all means, send personal hygiene items. These are the most requested, and most popular, items in care packages, including Momís cookies. Troops spend weeks away from base camp, sleeping on the ground, far away from showers and the PX. Baby wipes, hand sanitizer, lip balm, foot powder, talcum, toothpaste and deodorant sticks are gratefully accepted. Feminine hygiene products are also needed: there are thousands of women stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When sending feminine things, address the package "Attn: Any Female Soldier" and tuck in a couple of lipsticks and some nail polish along with the baby wipes, deodorants, and other things. While military regulations forbid painting fingernails, the women like to paint their toenails. It makes them feel more feminine amid the camo, the Humvees and the whistling mortar shells overhead.

Snacks are popular. Beef jerky can substitute for a meal when the soldier is away from the mess during mealtimes. Ramen noodles are popular, as are instant soups. Hard candies keep the mouth moist in a dusty climate. Fruit rollups are popular, as are powdered sports drinks, instant tea and coffee. Cereal bars and granola bars are like gold. Canned nuts and canned chips, like Pringles, are popular.

Sadly, donít send home-baked goods to troops you donít know. They have been instructed to throw baked goods away if sent by strangers. Packaged cookies, like Oreos and Archway, are fine. If the cookies are smashed to crumbs during shipping, the troops will scoop up the crumbs with their hands and enjoy them, says Swarthout.

Send news. Send clippings and magazines. Swarthout writes that supermarket tabloids are very popular. So are comics, sports magazines, fashion magazines and People.

Martin Horn says that while the soldiers need stuff, more than anything they need letters with news from home. Anything at all. If the soldier is from Hawaii and you send news from Maryland, that is perfectly OK. A letter in hand is tangible proof that someone Stateside cares, and that is enough to keep a soldier going for another day.

Despite holding down a "real job to pay the bills," Martin Horn is spending eight hours a day, at least, on anysoldier.com. "This is not going to go away anytime soon," he says. "This is my lifeís work."

 

Less gridlock or more headaches?

by Mary Helen Sprecher

newsroom@baltimoreguide.com

The MTAís "Red Line" - a proposed mass transit system that would stretch from the Woodlawn area of Baltimore County to Patterson Park (with stops including Charles Center, the Inner Harbor and the National Aquarium) is up for community consideration.

So far, the reaction has run the gamut from smiles to shrugs to shrieks.

The Mass Transit Administration, which over the next few weeks, will be holding a series of Ďopen houseí meetings to assess community feedback, is hoping that residents will bring a representative cross-section of these reactions. The first meeting is on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 4 p.m.-8 p.m. at the War Memorial Building.

"For these meetings, we hope to share information with the public," said Lorenzo Bryant, project manager for the MTA. The MTA, according to a brochure it distributed recently to community groups, wants residents to receive the latest project updates and information.

The proposed Red Line is a 10.5-mile east-west corridor that would connect Woodlawn with the city areas of Edmonson Village, West Baltimore, downtown Baltimore and the communities in the vicinity of the Inner Harbor East, Fells Point and Patterson Park.

The MTA became interested in the route because, according to Bryant, "thereís not much in the way of corridors and thoroughfares in an east-west direction. In a north-south direction, there is I-83 and the Light Rail, but nothing going east-west."

The Red Line would provide service connection to Baltimoreís existing transit system and would serve major employers including the Social Security Administration, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and downtownís central business district.

Trouble is, many city residents arenít all that convinced the Red Line is necessary, or that it has been all that well thought-out.

"It doesnít make sense to have (the line) end at Patterson Park," said Bob Keith, vice president of the Fells Point Homeowners Association. "It should end at Dundalk or Essex."

Keith is also worried about the impact of another transit system on the cityís already crowded streets and limited parking. "I donít think that we should support any high-speed transit system unless itís underground," he noted. "We donít have the roadway for it."

Keith said that he would be in favor of a shuttle bus system, but is leery of anything that might cut into existing roads.

The MTA has not yet determined what type of mass transit would be used in the Red Line. Among the options under consideration are Light Rail (the electric railway system already in use in parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County) and two other systems Baltimoreans might not be as well-acquainted with, Bus Rapid Transit and Enhanced Bus Service.

Bus Rapid Transit, according to Bryant is "a system similar to light rail, but with rubber tires." In some cases, vehicles used in Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT in the MTA shorthand, are confined to a special lane, such as by use of a jersey barrier or even by being confined to their own special tunnel. At a lower level, they might have a dedicated lane of the street, or they might share a lane with other bus service.

Enhanced Bus Service (EBS) operates in a manner similar to that of a regular bus system, but has what Bryant terms "lower-investment improvements to the existing system." In an EBS system, a bus might skip some stops (in some places, a bus that does this is known as an express service), it might have more than one entrance to make boarding easier and quicker, or it might use a Smart-Card fare system to allow for more efficient payment of fares.

The Red Line is in the study phase at present, with a possible implementation time frame of 2015. Bryant says that putting in a new mass transit system is a long and complicated process, and is dependent upon receiving federal funding, formal approval from the Federal Transit Administration, and going through legal channels to secure rights to any land that would be used in the process of putting down tracks.

A second system which has been proposed, but which is not yet being studied at the community level, is known as the Green Line, a four-mile corridor extending from the Johns Hopkins Metro Station to northeastern Baltimore City in the vicinity of Morgan State University and Good Samaritan Hospital. It is expected that it would provide access to Johns Hopkins Hospital, the proposed East Baltimore Biotechnology Park near Madison Square, and various city neighborhoods. The Green Line, according to MTA spokesman Cheron Wicker, is "on hold."

One of the neighborhoods that would be affected by the Red Line is Little Italy, because of its proximity to the Inner Harbor East area. Roberto Marsili, president of the Little Italy Community Organization, is staunchly opposed to any new mass transit.

"I think those things have caused a lot of places a lot of pain and suffering," he said. He draws a comparison with Owings Mills Mall, which receives mass transit commuters.

"Three-fourths of them who are aboard are bums and transients who live out their lives in those cars," he added, "and they spend their whole day there because they donít have anything better to do. The people driving those trains donít care."

Like Keith, Marsili is disappointed with the planned route and sees it as a potential problem for the neighborhoods on this side of town. "I guarantee you there arenít going to be people from Patterson Park going to Woodlawn or Liberty Heights," Marsili said. "Theyíre all going to be coming here."

While others are not as outspoken as Marsili (who terms the rail system "a bunch of crap"), there is a strong dose of skepticism regarding the need for, and the changes that would be necessary to accommodate, a new mass transit system in the area.

"The major concern like always is crime and grime - what are they willing to do to stop it, and maintenance of the road etc., over a long period of time," said Sue Thompson, president of the Hampstead Hill Association. "We are way behind other cities and desperately need a new quicker system for commuting."

That same need for - and benefit of - mass transit makes some have a higher opinion of the Red Line. The National Aquarium in Baltimore stands to benefit financially from a designated stop on the line, but according to Molly Foyle, Director of Media Relations, that is really secondary to a higher cause.

"The Aquarium has a focus on conservation, so anything that would encourage mass transit would be good," said Foyle. "It would be beneficial for us and all of our Inner Harbor neighbors."

Note: The MTA is holding public "open house" meetings on its Red Line project. The Red Line would be mass transit running between Woodlawn and Patterson Park. Upcoming meetings will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 26 (4 p.m.-8 p.m. at the War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay Street), Thursday, Oct. 28 (4 p.m.-8 p.m. at St. Patrickís Church, Broadway and Bank streets), and Wednesday, Nov. 3 (4 p.m.-8 p.m. at Hampstead Hill Academy, 500 S. Linwood Avenue). Info: 410-767-3754 or redline@mtamaryland.com. The website is www.baltimoreregiontransitplan.com.

Charter school awarded state grant

by Mary Helen Sprecher

newsroom@baltimoreguide.com

The Patterson Park Public Charter School Committee is celebrating its latest accomplishment: a new source of income for their proposed school.

Last week, the PPPCS planning committee (made up of parents and neighbors in the area) received word that its proposal for a PreK-grade 8 charter school had been awarded the Maryland State Charter School Planning grant.

The grant, according to committee chairman Stephanie Simms, "is worth $50,000 initially, meaning as soon as itís announced that we received our charter, another $50,000 when the charter application is signed, and makes us eligible for another $300,000 for planning an implementation."

For a group whose ambitious plans to transform an old parochial school building into the areaís first charter school, the grant can mean the ability to spread the word to the target recruitment area for students.

"We are very excited about this," says Simms, "because among other things, it will enable us to do more outreach to the community and let parents in the greater Patterson Park area know about the high-quality public school option for their children."

The PPPCS Committee recently completed an interview with the school systemís Advisory Council, in which it presented its proposal to renovate the St. Elizabeth of Hungary School into an updated, up-to-code school for the Patterson Park area.

During the interview, members of the committee were asked about aspects of school management, including instructional topics, enrollment zones and facilities to the evaluation of teachers.

"We havenít received any formal feedback from the interview, although we felt that it went very well," said Simms, who noted that following the interview, the Advisory Board will send its recommendations to the School Board.

Already, an important hurdle was cleared when the state of Maryland overturned the Baltimore City School Systemís "cap" or a pre-existing limitation on the number of charter schools that can be instituted.

"This is really great news for everyone in the city, particularly those parents that are seeking alternatives to their existing public school options," said Simms.

Laura Weeldreyer, coordinator of the cityís Charter School Charter and New School Initiative, notes that the city school system received proposals for a total of 10 new schools, and seven conversion schools.

The Patterson Park Public Charter School facility, if approved, would open in September of 2005 as a PreK-grade 4 school, with the intention of expanding to PreK-grade 8 in subsequent years. Once peak enrollment is reached, the school will hold about 550 children, according to its advocates.

A charter school is unique in that it is not set up directly by a governmental entity, such as a city or county. It has a charter or contract with its local governing system (in this case, Baltimore City).

If the application is approved, the city, will create a contract between its school system and the board of directors of the Patterson Park Public Charter School.

The charter school would be what is known as a public school of choice, since parents in the schoolís target recruitment area (similar to its current school district) could choose to send their children to that school, or they could instead send them to the public school mandated by Baltimore City for that jurisdiction.

The school also would have a certain amount of autonomy, being able to set up its own board of directors to determine the operation and curriculum of the school, although there would be checks and balances to the relationship, since the charter school would be accountable to the city school system.

A charter school is able to choose its own teachers to hire, for example, but its teachers would have to be state certified, and the school would be required to meet the standards of other public schools.

Two other schools in the Southeastern area, already operating as regular public schools, are seeking to convert to charter facilities. They are Hampstead Hill Academy and City Springs School.

In a previous interview, Weeldreyerstated that the process for application for these schools is different from a start-up school like PPPCS.

"They are on a completely separate track," she notes.

(This is a local copy from http://www.baltimoreguide.com/selead2.html)