By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
After three weeks of preparation, the project to send care packages to sailors stationed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf is in its final stages.
Havre resident Jean Smith, 61, the planner of Operation Havre Love, said this morning she hopes to start packing boxes by noon and get the packages on their way to Great Falls this afternoon.
"I've got it cleared through the ship," said Smith, who has a granddaughter from Havre, Jody Corner, on the aircraft carrier. "It will get to them. They might be back home by the time it gets to them, but they'll get it."
Smith said Jody, 19, spoke to the captain of the Abraham Lincoln, who said there wouldn't be a problem. "Jody's captain says go ahead," she said.
At 10:30 a.m., donations were still coming in. "We got way more than 200 packages, I'm positive - maybe even up to 500 packages," Smith said.
"The outpouring was just wonderful. I'm just thrilled," she said.
Smith said she didn't have a final count yet, but that there was enough collected to send packages for two or three crews on the carrier. Each crew has about 180 sailors, she said.
There are 5,617 sailors on the ship.
"I'm sure we've got over 2,000 cookies," Smith said. "We didn't get as many letters as I'd like." She said there would not be a letter for every single package.
"There's quite a bit of stuff," collected at City Hall, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said this morning. "There's a couple hundred pounds of stuff down there anyway," he said.
Smith said children from Havre Middle School, the high school, and the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line contributed letters, and the high school has put together six different versions of a humorous informational brochure about Havre to be enclosed in the packages.
This morning it was not clear exactly how the boxes will be sent.
Rice said he will drive the boxes to Malmstrom Air Force Base this afternoon or Tuesday morning to be inspected. "I'll have them check it," he said.
Smith said she planned to send them through the U.S. Postal Service from Havre this afternoon. She said she had not spoken with the mayor yet this morning.
However they are sent, tight security may pose a problem.
A Defense Department policy, adopted after Sept. 11, 2001, requires that packages be addressed to specific service members.
"We appreciate people putting together these packages and wish the situation were otherwise," said Master Sgt. Buzz Ritchie, superintendent of public affairs at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls. Ritchie said that because of heightened security, there is no guarantee packages will get to their destination.
"There are other ways of showing support for people overseas other than sending packages that must be inspected and can be quite time-consuming," Ritchie said, adding that people could give the packages to a senior center or Veterans Affairs center.
But because there are three Havre-area sailors on the Abraham Lincoln, Operation Havre Love may have a loophole to the policy. Rice said a large box full of packages could be sent to each of those three sailors, and the contents distributed on the ship.
The three soldiers are Corner, Mike Johnikan, and Jason Torivio.
"If you have it addressed to an individual, I suppose they could do it that way," Ritchie said. He said he was not aware of a size limit on packages addressed to individuals.
Even if the packages can't be sent to the ship, Rice said, there are plenty of soldiers at Malmstrom Air Force Base who could use support.
"We'll have a backup plan," he said.
Rice said the U.S. Postal Service has led him to think that won't be necessary. "If we put a name on them, the post office says they'll go," he said.
Rice said he hopes he will be able to send the boxes from a U.S. post office to the nearest fleet post office, which will send them the rest of the way.
On Friday Smith said she has received about $200 in donations, and that she has spent $75 on food items for the packages.
The rest will be used for postage. "If it isn't (enough), I'm gonna pay for it," she added.