Chris Raveling was waiting to be deployed overseas to support Operation Enduring Freedom when he got an unexpected gift bag, courtesy of the United Service Organizations, or USO.
The care package contained a bar of soap, a disposable camera, a tube of lip balm and a copy of Margaret Truman's Murder at the Pentagon. But what Raveling and many other troops at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday really prized were the 100-minute global phone cards.
"As soon as I get there, if I can, I'll phone [his wife and children] and let them know I got there OK," said Raveling, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard from Iowa who said he could not disclose his destination.
The USO of Metropolitan Washington has distributed more than 10,000 such gift bags since December as part of Operation USO Care Package, said Tracey Steele, a USO volunteer coordinator. The packages go to troops being deployed overseas or stationed in the Washington area.
At a news conference in the international wing of BWI, USO officials announced yesterday that the Washington-based nonprofit group is expanding the program beyond the airport.
The USO has 117 centers around the world in addition to the one at BWI. Others will offer care packages as soon as enough donations are collected.
"It is one of the first times in a long time where USO World is partnering with a local USO," said Edmund A. Powell, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit agency, which started in 1940.
Nearly 250,000 U.S. military personnel fly from BWI yearly, more than from any other airport in the world, said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Glenn Ruffin. About 1,000 departing troops received gift bags yesterday.
"The American public used to be able to send a letter, or candy or cookies to troops all over the world. With the anthrax scare, that all stopped," said Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington. "Unfortunately, in today's climate, individuals just can't send things to individual soldiers."
The restrictions on the general public do not apply to family members with specific addresses for troops.