WASHINGTON -- U.S. soldiers in the Persian Gulf are finding themselves in a real jam -- strawberry and blueberry, that is, thanks to a Jessup gourmet food distributor.
And when they polish off the nearly 2 tons of jams, jellies, corn chips and Danish butter cookies shipped by Castle Food Product Corp., the troops can curl up in their bunks with 10,000 comic books, courtesy of Diamond Comics of Baltimore.
Well, not quite yet. "They haven't gone over yet," said William Neuhaus, account representative for the Woodlawn distributor, explaining that some of the comics would not pass Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic code.
"We can't send 'Archie' comics because they have Veronica running around in a bikini," he said. "That's why it's taking a little longer." Fully-clad super heroes Batman and Superman will likely be on the approved list, he said.
The two Maryland companies are among the businesses, individuals and organizations around the nation sending the troops everything from near-beer to 7-foot artificial Christmas trees.
Donations include thousands of cases and packages of sunscreen, facial mist, picante sauce, cookies, cakes, sardines, stationary, penlights, videocassettes, portable basketball goals, Nordic tracks and juggling equipment, in a burst of largess that is turning the Saudi desert into a virtual department store.
Actor and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also serves as chairman of the presidential council on fitness and sports, got together with a half dozen fitness companies and shipped tons of barbells, aerobic trainers and weight-lifting equipment.
Embattled Kuwait also has gotten into the act: Its embassy in Washington offered 3,000 T-shirts.
Operation Desert Shield has received "a little bit of everything," said Lt. Col. Henry L. Wyatt, spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency, which is handling the steady stream of gifts. "The donation hot line has received in excess of 5,000 telephone calls" since it started in early September, he said.
"So far we've made two shipments, one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas," said Laura Leffel, accounts payable administrator for Castle Food, who approached company executives with the donation idea after her brother-in-law in Arizona headed to the gulf with U.S. forces. The company hopes to get together a third shipment by year's end, she said.
Meanwhile, the Fashion Bug of Hurlock has sent a truckload of clothing, while WCAO Radio in Baltimore dispatched 3,000 blank cassettes.
Nationally, there have been 944 offers of goods as of Dec. 6, said Colonel Wyatt, and 409 shipments have been made, with 235 arriving at U.S. central command headquarters after the 30-day sea voyage. The DLA offers to pick up the transportation costs if the goods are sent to designated points in Pennsylvania and California.
DLA has come up with a list of suggested acceptable items that include games and fitness equipment, books and stationery, as well as personal accessories, from cotton socks to chewing gum and disposable razors. The Arizona Air National Guard, likely attuned to what's really important to fighting forces, sent 163 cases of toilet paper.
One company, Carcool of Westlake Village, Calif., -- perhaps confused that soldiers were allowed to bring their own cars -- sent 30,000 car shields.
A Raleigh, N.C., business figured it had the perfect location for its product. It sent over 2,000 sand chairs. But a New York-based diet drink company apparently thought the troops were sitting around too much and shipped 7,000 cartons of Slim-Fast.
"To me, the most unusual one would be the dehydrated ice cream," said Colonel Wyatt, referring to 3,250 portions sent by a Florida company. "It's the same thing they feed the astronauts."
And he recalled that a California company sent a 24-by-48 inflatable dome that the colonel likened to a pool cover. "Blow it up and you get instant cover from the elements," he said.
The DLA checks with the U.S. Central Command in Saudi, headed by Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, before it makes a shipment, the colonel said. "If they don't want it, we don't ship it," he said.
So far the command has rejected above-ground swimming pools ("They didn't say why") and lobsters. An offer of live Christmas trees also got a thumbs down, said the colonel, explaining that after a long sea voyage, "it'd probably look like a bunch of pine needles."
Sending to the gulf
People or groups who want to send gifts or supplies to troops in Saudi Arabia can take them to Postman Plus shops, where the goods will be packaged and shipped to the Middle East for 50 cents a pound.
Postman Plus and Postman Plus Courier/Messenger Service have collected and shipped more than 10,000 pounds of books, writing materials, games, sun block, insect repellent and other supplies since Nov. 12.
Postman Plus Courier/Messenger Service will make special arrangements for pickups at schools, churches and other organizations. Questions about donations or shipments can be directed to any Postman Plus store or 1-800-POSTMAN.