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ARLINGTON, Va. — Keep your shirts on boys, because the Playboy bunnies of “Operation Playmate” are doing the same.

In keeping with a wartime tradition of helping boost morale of troops in combat, Playboy Enterprises has revived its pen-pal program in which U.S. servicemembers can communicate with its famous models — and get autographed photos when requested.

However, only via the Internet, and none of the images will display models in the nude, Playboy spokesman Bill Farley said.

“For security reasons, the State Department strongly discouraged us from sending anything via the mail, so we won’t be. So, there’s no way for them to get these if they don’t have Internet access,” Farley lamented.

“We don’t want to create problems for the military men on the other end or the Department of Defense, so most images will be head shots or women in bathing suits,” Farley said.

“Anything that helps improve the morale of the troops is a good thing,” said Marine Capt. Stewart Upton, a spokesman at Central Command’s forward headquarters in Qatar.

“But you have to understand in this current conflict, few of the fighting troops will have access to the Internet.”

Playboy is keeping with a long-standing relationship between the magazine and the armed forces, bringing to the troops what makes them cheerful, Upton said.

“I think what Playboy is saying is that they care about our troops deployed overseas and they care what we’re doing for our country,” Upton said.

According to The Associated Press, retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led war operations in the 1991 Gulf War, said then that the Playmates who took part in the program back then were “true patriots.”

The “tradition” of Operation Playmate actually dates to 1966 and the Vietnam War, when the magazine ran a subscription promotion.

Anyone mailing in $150 would win a lifetime subscription and a Playboy bunny would deliver the first issue.

The only restriction: the applicant had to live in one of the 20 cities in which Playboy had one of its famous nightclubs.

An infantry regiment fighting in Vietnam pooled their money and sent a letter. Playboy saw the public relations value of it, and with great effort, made it happen.

The unit still holds the rights to that subscription.

(See the April 20 Sunday Magazine stories for details.)

Operation Playmate is free, and won’t be used as a medium to try to sell subscriptions, Farley promised.

To sign up, servicemembers or their families need to send an e-mail to operation_playmate@playboy.com and include the intended recipient’s name and an APO or FPO mailing address (used only to verify the servicemember is, in fact, overseas, Farley said).


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