Son returns safe, but Operation AC founder has no plans to pull plug
WASHINGTON — Frankie Mayo started Operation Air Conditioner when her son was deployed to Iraq. But now that he’s back stateside, she has new marching orders.
“My son will not allow me to quit,” she said. “He says quitting is not in the Army field manual or the MP Code of Ethics. And he outranks me, so I guess that is the end of that.”
Not only that, but the group is now looking to expand its mission beyond American troops to their coalition partners. Mayo said the non-profit has begun soliciting donations to buy ballistic sunglasses and Under Armor clothing for the foreign troops, many of whom are deployed without the basic equipment U.S. forces have.
“I’ve had troops ask me if they could donate some of their stuff to the foreign troops,” she said. “This is being driven by them. Our troops are the ones who told us about this need.”
Operation Air Conditioner has shipped more than 9,300 air conditioners and more than $1 million in other supplies requested by troops in Iraq over the last two years.
In June, the National Military Family Association recognized Mayo with their Award of Honor, and earlier this month the 1st Cavalry Division invited her to Texas to receive another award for her contributions to the unit while they were deployed.
The project began in June 2003 when Mayo’s son, Army Sgt. Chris Tomlinson, emailed home from Iraq and asked if she could find out how to ship an air conditioner overseas. She responded by sending 11.
Her non-profit company now buys and ships dozens of items requested by troops serving in Iraq. But air conditioners are still a large focus, and Mayo said there are still many military buildings and living quarters without relief from the desert’s searing heat.
“We want to fill the gap for our troops who build their own MWR and work areas, and for those who find themselves in remote areas still in tents,” she said.
In return for the free air conditioners, Mayo asks only that the troops pass them along to the next rotation when they leave the country.
“And if they break, I just ask them to be completely destroyed so that the electronic parts cannot be used by the bad guys,” she said. “When you ask them to destroy something for operational security, they do a really great job at that.”
All the work is done by a crew of family and friends, including her husband, Mathew, and her 12-year-old daughter, Olivia. Even Tomlinson, who left he Army earlier this month, has been drafted into service.
In fact, the family is so dedicated to the project that work didn’t slow down even when Mayo’s mother suffered a stroke in June. She recovered two days later, but sent Mayo away almost immediately.
“I was sitting with her in hospital, and she struggled and said, ‘Frankie, what are you doing here?’” Mayo said. “I said, ‘Mom, I didn’t want you to be alone.’ She said, ‘Go home and help the troops.’
“There you go: My mom won’t let me quit, either.”