Howard Woman Spreads Bright Reminders Of Soldiers

Operation Orange Ribbon Ties Support For Troops

War In The Gulf

January 20, 1991|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Staff writer

Thanks to Mary Jane Wright, showing support in Maryland for the troops in the Persian Gulf has taken on a whole new color.

Residents are tying thousands of orange ribbons onto mailboxes, front doors, cars and clothing as part of "Operation Orange Ribbon," a nationwide effort to display support for America's servicemen and women.

"It's a visual display of support," said Wright, 51, who has three sons in the military and is the founder of the Howard County-based Maryland chapter of Operation Orange Ribbon.

"When I go home at night and see the ribbons on mailboxes, it's a comforting feeling. It is saying, 'regardless of your political motivation, people care.' "

January was declared "Orange Ribbon Month" by County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the County Council on Jan. 7 in a joint resolution intended to remind people to keep U.S. troops in their hearts and prayers.

Florists and surveyor supply stores have responded by donating thousands of yards of orange ribbon and tape to the organization. An eight-member coalition of Wright's family and co-workers tie the ribbons into bows.

"We get together on demand when the need arises,"said Wright. "We may tie several hundred large bows at a time for mailboxes and doors, using 1,500 foot-long strips of ribbon and tape, then won't do any for a week or two. Or we may prepare hundreds of small ones for people to wear."

The group also puts together a package of literature explaining the organization's purpose. The literatureand ribbons are then sent to anyone who requests it; and that person, in turn, duplicates and distributes the literature. "My little coregroup is only the initiating factor," she said.

Wright's cause was also broadcast Monday on WBAL television and will air on Howard Cable Television's Cable 15. House of Delegates Representatives Robert H. Kittleman and Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, have asked Wright to speakin Annapolis.

"In Howard County, the response has been overwhelming, because that's where we started," said Wright. "It's spreading throughout Maryland. We anticipate a lot more requests."

Operation Orange Ribbon is a grass roots organization that has spread to 16 states. It originated in Cincinnati last August under the direction of Ellen Lambing, who had a son serving in the Navy in the Gulf. Lambing chose orange.

"Ellen wanted it to stand out," said Wright who explained that the classic yellow had become too closely associated with the Iranian hostage crisis of a decade ago, when yellow ribbons sprangup throughout the country to show support for the returning Americans.

Operation Orange Ribbon is also an organization without formal membership enrollment or dues. "I couldn't begin to tell how many members there are in the Maryland chapter because anyone who wants to wear an orange ribbon is welcome," said Wright. "No one joins. People just hear about it and call. And it's snowballing."

Even solicitation for donations are kept low-key. "We don't solicit funds. Any moneywe do receive we use to purchase ribbon and postage," she explained."But we do solicit ribbons."

Wright, a resident of West Friendship, is an employee of Harry M. Steven's Maintenance Services of Catonsville. The company allows her to use the conference room for the operation, has put ribbons on fleet vehicles and even donated money to the organization.

She and husband, Earnest, 61, have five children, three of them in the service. But it was Wright's second son, 32-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Donald Kahrs, that spurred her involvement with the organization when he was sent from Germany to Saudi Arabia on Christmas Eve.

"I wanted to do something for him," said Wright. "Family and friends of servicemen and women are often left with a lonely and helpless feeling. But all my son said was 'don't let people back home forget me,' so I contacted friends who put me in touch with Ellen Lambing."

Wright is also a member of a support group for families of soldiers serving in the Gulf. "The group meets the needs of those left behind," said Wright. "It's non-political. It shows that the families are being cared for."

Sharing pictures and letters, the group even invites guest lecturers to explain the military status in the Gulf or to just help them deal with their fears and concerns.

"We want to keep that link going between home and soldiers," explained Wright. "We are trying to facilitate someone else helping you talk about your fears when you can't always do it at home."

Wright has even been approached by John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab to help it initiate a support group. She will lecture at a lunchtime meeting there Thursday.

Wright ties the ribbon campaign in with the numerous support groups sprouting up throughout the country. "Operation Orange Ribbon is a catalyst for a lot happening, like the APL. It is tied intoseveral support groups because the ribbons and groups are one and the same. The orange ribbons are a visual sign of support groups forming."

The ribbons are a catharsis, said Wright. "The war is going to touch everybody. All sectors of society are going to need support. Ribbons go beyond family members -- they go into the community."

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