By JASON ECK
To bolster troop protection, the U.S. Department of Defense is urging the general public not to send unsolicited mail, care packages or donations to people now deployed in the Middle East.
The department, in a news release on its Web site, says such mailings should be sent only by family members, loved ones or personal friends.
Such mail "has always been encouraged and the military mail system will continue to work hard to get that mail to service members overseas," the release states.
"Although these programs provide an excellent means of support to friends and loved ones overseas, they also provide an avenue to introduce hazardous materials into the mail system from unknown sources," the release states.
In keeping with the DOD recommendation, The Union Dem-ocrat will stop publishing the addresses of service members from Tuolumne and Calaveras counties who are in the Middle East.
The DOD said unsolicited mail, packages and donations compete for limited airlift space used to transport supplies, war-fighting material and mail from family members and loved ones.
Some groups and people have been giving out names and addresses of individual service members and unit addresses to send unsolicited "care packages," the DOD said. While such programs are usually initiated by "well-intentioned, thoughtful and patriotic groups," the DOD said, those people are unaware of new risks facing military forces.
While legitimate mail from family members and loved ones is always encouraged, the DOD Web site says, donor programs, which collect and pass out servicemembers' names and addresses, are discouraged.
Ron Colombani, one of the organizers of the We Care care package program spearheaded by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391 and backed by all the Tuolumne County veterans organizations, said the group will continue its work despite the DOD mail request.
He said he understands the reasoning behind the DOD's request, but his care packages are being sent at the request of family members. Each package has a return address on it, he said.