Army says it can’t handle massive AC donation
December 23, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Citing “prohibitive” shipping costs and its own plan to boost living conditions in Iraq, the Army has turned down a Delaware mom’s offer to donate thousands of air conditioners to troops about to go through a second searing summer.
In a letter dated Dec. 15 to Frankie Mayo, the Delaware-based founder of “Operation Air Conditioner,” Col. John Della Jacono, chief of staff for the Office of Personnel Programs and Policies for the 3rd Army at Fort McPherson, Ga., thanked the donor for her offer, but said the Army has its own plans to keep troops comfortable.
“Our forward commands have recognized the need to provide air-conditioned facilities for our soldiers,” Della Jacono wrote in the letter. “We have a plan to provide environmental control units with the capability to both heat and cool facilities and are compatible with power generation capabilities in theater to units by April.”
That plan, “coupled with the cost to ship the air conditioners to theater led to our decision not to accept the donation,” the letter said.
The 3rd Army is U.S. Central Command’s Coalition Forces Land Component, which makes the Georgia-based command responsible for managing any donations going into CENTCOM’s theater of operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Frankie Mayo launched Operation AC (www.operationac.com) in June, after her son, Cpl. Chris Tomlinson of the Army’s 300th Military Police Company, e-mailed her from Iraq asking her to send him an air conditioner.
Mayo has already shipped more than 2,000 air conditioners to troops in Iraq, along with thousands of pairs of boots worth $60,000, more than 4,000 space heaters, and even pre-decorated Christmas trees.
Her son is scheduled to come back to the United States in late March, but Mayo has pledged to continue Operation AC once he is home. She acquired tax-free status from the IRS earlier this month, and has recruited a major corporate sponsor, Home Depot, which has donated 600 air conditioners and $25,000.
Mayo has been trying to secure the U.S. military’s help sending her air conditioners since August, “but they’ve been giving me the runaround,” she said in a Dec. 16 telephone interview.
Mayo said she considers Della Jacono’s response to be final, and that she is turning her efforts towards securing private funding to mail the air conditioners.
“Now things are going to get interesting, because I have to figure out some way to get the money raised” to ship the units commercially, Mayo said. “My goal is to begin deliveries in February,” and send six monthly shipments of 600 AC units each to Iraq by July.
“I need to raise $500,000 to make that happen, but I can do it,” said Mayo, who has raised $700,000 in donations so far.
In a Friday telephone interview with Stripes, 3rd Army spokesman Col. Rick Thomas said that before turning Mayo down, Army officials analyzed the costs of transporting the air conditioners using the U.S. military’s logistics and shipping system.
“We found it to be prohibitive” — $175 per unit, if the 55-pound air conditioners were sent to Iraq by sea, the least inexpensive method of transport, he said.
In addition to sticking with her own plans, Mayo said she intends to make sure the Army stays on track with its program to provide cooling elements to deployed troops.
“We have something in black and white now,” she said, citing Della Jacono’s letter. “If April comes around and it’s not done, I’m going to hold them accountable, and so is everyone who supports me.”