Aid and Comfort

Any long-time reader of This is True has heard of our (in)famous “Get Out of Hell Free” cards, stickers, and t-shirts. They’re my reaction to people telling me to go to (or that I am going to) hell. They have been wildly popular with readers who enjoy being able to finally have a good response to those who tell them the same thing.

In the 1 August 2004 issue, I reported on a note that I got with an order for GOOHF cards and stickers:

These are to be distributed to my soldiers in Iraq. I’ve been kicking the idea around since, believe it or not, I was in Kosovo (May-Nov 2001). Given the 130F temps (in the shade, naturally) I am sure they will be a hit. (signed) Charles, Capt., US Army Armor, Kansas

Aid and Comfort
Sorry: not available in camouflage.

I noted that I’d be sending some extras to ensure everyone got one, and expressed hope that his soldiers will return soon, safe and sound.

I have no doubt, by the way, that Charles is who he says he is: he’s using his official Army email address, and his mailing address is at Ft. Riley, the Kansas home of the 24th Infantry Division.

It Expands

After I published Charles’ letter, something unexpected happened: readers wrote to say they, also, wanted to help send some extras to Capt. Charles. So I wrote him to see if he was willing to accept what could be a lot of cards and stickers. It took several weeks to get a reply: Charles was out — training his soldiers for deployment to Iraq. When he got back, he wrote:

Sorry for the late reply — I just returned from training at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. (It’s not hell, but you can see it from there. There’s nothing like a swamp to make you love the desert. Mosquitoes there have ticks on them.) We went there to train on the Iraq scenario. They have actual Arab (US Citizen) role-players to replicate Sheiks, Imams, Townsfolk, etc, mixed in with soldiers who are the OPFOR (enemy). You have to learn to use interpreters, deal with civil disturbances, chemical spills, rebuilding infrastructure, protection from insurgents, and everything else we will encounter in Iraq. All with a very high degree of realism. A truly eye-opening experience.

I am sure that your cards would be a huge morale booster. I gave one (that had been given to me) to our Chaplain, and he thought it was great. Everyone I showed it to loved it, even the Arab (Muslim) sheik in “my” town thought it was funny, even for us infidels. (Those guys were really cool — most were either Kurds who fled Iraq following the first Gulf war or ex-pats who were waiting to see how the new Iraqi government pans out.) They all realized that we were trying to make it a better place, and wanted little more that to provide realistic training, and help teach us the Arab Culture and how to fight and win “in-country.”

I’d love to be the Typhoid Mary of GOOHF cards and stickers for the whole of Iraq. I will split whatever you and your readers send with my fellow company commanders throughout our brigade, which should get them to about 3,000 soldiers. If we have plenty of spares, then it really makes things easy. Since a lot of needed items are usually bartered in the Army (supply sergeants haven’t changed since the revolutionary war), it’s amazing what a gimmick or gadget can get you. Especially if it makes people laugh.

I’m glad you posted my letter for me and that your readers want to support our troops. Thanks again, Chuck.

Participation is now closed — thanks much to True’s incredible readers for helping send cards, GOOHF stamps and This is True books to the soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors serving in harm’s way. How many? Well:

Final Tally

Cards: 2,126
Stickers: 827
Books: 2,376
Readers Contributing: 219

One hundred percent of the contributions went toward this effort — I absorbed the Paypal fees. (Note the tally shows the total of dollars contributed.)

Less than 24 hours after this effort started, I asked Charles to come to this page and look at the numbers in the chart — and suggested that we expand this to all services. He replied:

Wow. I just saw the numbers. That is truly amazing. I will make sure every last one of those cards gets to a soldier, marine, airman, or sailor. (My sister is in the USAF, she leaves for the Middle East this week.) She’s never been there (but she did manage to get to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan for Operation Enduring Freedom) and so she’s never experienced the true joys of living in the cradle of civilization. I’ve been there before, and after a few weeks I am sure she’ll really appreciate the card.

The books were an idea I hadn’t even considered. I would love them. Funny thing about combat: You don’t have any until you have too much. The times in between can get pretty boring. Books are always welcome. Thanks again, Chuck.

So, to those who suggested we expand this to other services, we were already on it. By the time the effort concluded more than 200 readers contributed more than $5,000, which went all the farther since we were able to provide a nice discount on the goodies.

Again, we are no longer accepting contributions — as of January 2005, Capt. Charles is no longer able to accept more stuff since he’s being shipped out to Iraq himself. He writes:

Randy: I am leaving in the next few days for the sandbox and wanted to take a minute to thank you for the books, stickers, and cards. I have distributed them throughout my brigade and will continue to give them to Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen (and sailors, if any of them bother to come on dry land.) Everyone I have given them to have had a chuckle, many of my soldiers asked if the card could be redeemed if they get in trouble. (My answer: That’s between you and the Almighty, but from what I hear, you can’t take it with you.)

Your support (and that of your readers) has been fantastic. Keep us in your prayers, and regardless of who you vote for, know that soldiers go and fight where and when they are told. No one hates war more than the people who put themselves in harm’s way; nor does anyone love peace more than those who have.

Thanks again, Chuck

Thanks for the update, Chuck. As for the cards really working, all I can tell you is I’ve had no one tell me they tried one and it didn’t work! Not even one. Not too many products have that kind of record in the field.

Thanks much to all my readers for their contributions to this great effort. Click the link to order your own GOOHF cards and This is True books.

7 August 2005 Update

This update from Capt. Chuck came in last night:

I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m the guy who distributed your Get Out of Hell Free cards in Iraq. On the 21st of June, I was blown up by an [Improvised Explosive Device]. I suffered severe trauma to my arms and legs, lost my hearing (not permanently), lost a finger, and generally ended up in a bad way. I would like to say that your issues of TRUE kept me going, but that would be a lie, as I did not have access to the Internet.

Recently, an organization called Soldiers’ Angels helped my wife and mother (who have been here as non-medical attendants) secure access to a computer with Internet access. Since then, I have been reading through your back issues and getting caught up. I really hope laughter is the best medicine, because I have been chuckling every day reading issue after issue. Thank you for keeping me smiling, and I hope to get back to Iraq and pass out more of your cards as soon as possible. Getting out of hell wasn’t free for me, I guess I should have used one of your cards. –Chuck

I certainly do remember you, Chuck! Sorry to hear you got whacked, but very glad to hear that you’re fighting your way back. I’m happy to hear your wife and mother are there with you.

If True is helping you in any way, too, I’m very gratified. Keep in touch!

And remember, you got the last laugh: you were able to give the insurgents the finger.