May 4

A show of respect

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

May 4 A show of respect Proud to serve What makes a hero Bush should back veterans Set course for weighty topicsMay 5 Retirement, disability pay Golf controversy Islam Membership has its privileges?May 6 Masters letter outrageous Symbol of strength Deli switchMay 7 Caring family Veterans' benefitsMay 8 Lynch praise ridiculous Stop loss unfair U.S. gas prices Right to address discriminationMay 9 Tricare Dental Program Purchase transactionMay 10 Tattoos story Retiree mail regulations

As usual, I was running late. So readers can imagine my frustration as I approached the main gate of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, only to find traffic backed up. Nearing the checkpoint, I realized that not only was there a long line of cars, but traffic had come to a complete stop because all entrance gates were closed.

Over the past 18 months, there have been many opportunities to practice our patience as we’ve had to “hurry up and wait” because of heightened security. While we realize the necessity, it’s still frustrating at times for even the most easygoing folks. This was one of those times for me. I needed to be where I was going, and I needed to be there now! The German soldiers, who are manning the entrances of American military installations in Germany, were just milling around at Ramstein, chatting as if those of us in line had all the time in the world.

Things then seemed to go from bad to worse. The German gate guards began walking among the stopped cars, asking us to turn off our engines and headlights. I realized that no traffic was exiting or entering the air base. My feelings of frustration began to turn to concern. Just what was going on? A few minutes later, I noticed blue lights approaching from the direction of the air terminal. Close behind were two military medical buses with their Red Cross. Lights were on in the buses and intravenous bags could be seen hanging. It was then that I realized these were more of our wounded warriors being transported from the battlefields to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for treatment.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for what happened next. All the German soldiers, our gate guards, began walking toward the concrete barriers that divide the inbound and outbound lanes of traffic. As the blue lights neared, more German soldiers seemed to appear from nowhere, lining the road shoulder to shoulder. Right on cue, without a word being spoken, these soldiers snapped a sharp salute as the buses drove past, rendering arms until well after the last bus had passed. Needless to say, I was speechless and deeply moved. What a show of respect for fellow soldiers!

Soldier to soldier, rendering honor and respect. Our allies, our comrades — those who know the price that some have to pay for freedom — did not have to be asked or prompted. It came from their character and soldiering hearts.

May God bless and watch over all soldiers and their loved ones as they stand in harm’s way for us.

Angie McLeanLandstuhl, Germany

Proud to serve

I’m Spc. Nicholas M. Lewis, a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Colt team. I really have to thank Stars and Stripes’ team of journalists and editors. They have provided a lonely team of two with access to the outside world since the war in Iraq first began. I also thank Stripes for allowing the mail issue to come to light.

I hope to return home soon. But I also want the nation I work for to know a good and decent quote from John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

I’m proud to serve the cause of justice and proud indeed to shine amongst my peers back home as the only member of the 173rd paratroopers on station preserving the cause of justice and democracy in Iraq.

Spc. Nicholas M. LewisIraq

What makes a hero

Lately, the word “hero” has been thrown around like dollar bills at a strip joint. Pfc. Jessica Lynch has been made the poster girl for heroism when basically all she did was make a wrong turn and get lost. That said, let it be known that all soldiers who lost their lives should be honored and their sacrifice should not be trivialized. I’m also glad that all the POWs either made it home or their remains were returned to their families. But all of this hero mumbo-jumbo is driving me insane.

A hero in my opinion is someone who charges an enemy gun nest or runs through a hail of bullets to pull his buddy to safety. A hero is also a single mom who raises her kids in a drug-infested, crime-ridden area and they all turn out to be productive citizens. Getting lost in the desert doesn’t cut it. As a matter of fact, calling Lynch or any of the returning POWs heroes is a slap in the face to every hero who paid the ultimate price in previous conflicts.

Doing one’s job does not necessarily make one a hero. Putting a ball in a basket doesn’t make a person a hero. Hitting a game-winning home run doesn’t make a person a hero. Know who my heroes are? They are those parents who take the time to raise their kids correctly. Heroes are teachers who work for minimum wage. Heroes are firefighters who run into blazing buildings.

Is Lynch a hero? I don’t think so. Sure, she and the other POWs had horrific experiences. As God is my witness, I’m glad they made it back. But before the movies and book deals manifest themselves, to me the heroes are those who won’t have ticker tape parades and who died in Iraq or in any other conflict. They are the heroes.

Stephen P. MaloneKaiserslautern, Germany

Bush should back veterans

President Bush has repeatedly claimed that he supports our troops in Iraq, but does he really? I couldn’t believe what the president said in an April 24 interview. Bush said that “looting and vandalism, particularly in hospitals and museums,” was the absolute worst part of an otherwise-successful military campaign. “It’s like uncorking a bottle of frustration,” Bush said. How soon the president has forgotten the more than 120 American lives lost, the lost lives of our coalition partners and the countless number of Iraqi lives lost. The loss of life is the absolute worst part.

I’m not voicing my opinion as to whether the war was justified. I’m just outraged that the president would believe looting and vandalism are “a bottle of frustration.” The real “bottle of frustration” is Bush’s lack of support for our military veterans. During his campaign, Bush repeatedly said that “promises [to veterans] made will be promises kept.” Our military veterans are still waiting for Bush to keep even one promise.

Where is the promised lifetime health care? The vets are so tired of waiting that they have a class-action lawsuit pending to restore this promised health care.

Where is our promised retirement pay? Veterans who retire from military service and have a service-connected disability don’t have their retirement checks and disability checks. Every retired veteran who is approved for disability payments by the Department of Veterans Affairs must give up dollar-for-dollar their retirement pension equal to the amount of disability payments. No other government workers must forfeit any of their retirement pay if they draw any VA disability payments.

How many of the troops who Bush “supports” will come marching home to a hero’s welcome? I hope it will be every one of them. How many will require assistance from the VA because of injuries or more cases of Gulf War Syndrome? I can’t even guess the number of new claims.

How does the Bush administration support these war veterans? By proposing massive budget cuts for all VA programs and preventing a very willing Congress from correcting the discrimination against military retired and disabled veterans.

I’m a 24-year Navy veteran and 100 percent disabled. I understand firsthand the real “bottle of frustration.” Congress has overwhelmingly supported allowing retired veterans to draw both their retirement and disability pay. But Congress has buckled to pressure that Bush has placed on them concerning this issue.

Now Bush is concerned with the economy and stimulating economic growth. What better way to increase spending by Americans than to give 600,000 disabled and retired vets their retirement pay. This would go to people who are scraping by on a daily basis, not as a tax cut that would mainly benefit the rich.

Bush should understand that it’s his responsibility as commander in chief to take care of his troops.

Thom MatheyYoungstown, Fla.

Set course for weighty topics

This is in response to the April 26 letter “Teed off at Masters ‘meanness.’” It was about women being allowed to play golf as members at the private course where the Masters tournament is held. All I can say is, “Bravo!” With all the problems going on in the world, it’s about time someone returned our focus to the monumentally important issue of whether rich, white Southern women should be allowed to join a private organization and hit a ball around with sticks.

Tech. Sgt. James KingRamstein Air Base, Germany

May 5

Retirement, disability pay

I strongly encourage all military retirees and active duty servicemembers who plan to retire to urge their congressional officials to vote in favor of House Resolution 303. This is a recent House proposal that would allow military retirees to collect their full retirement pay and any disability compensation. Currently when a servicemember retires with a disability percentage, that percentage is converted to a dollar amount which is then subtracted from the retirement pay that is paid to the retiree by the Department of Defense. This converted amount is in turn paid back from Veterans Affairs tax free. The end effect is that it works out to the same dollar amount.

But if a person serves for a few years in the military and leaves with a disability without retiring, that person receives disability compensation tax free as well. This is not to say such people shouldn’t receive it. They should. But so should disabled retirees.

Many retirees are truly disabled and may have a difficult time finding suitable employment due to their disabilities. They’ll need the additional income to provide for themselves and their families.

The bottom line is that people who served 20 or more years in the military earned their retirement checks. They shouldn’t have to lose a part of that due to a disability. They should receive both their retirement checks and disability compensation.

Sgt. 1st Class Paul WortmannHanau, Germany

Golf controversy

This is in regard to the letters “Teed off at Masters” (April 24) and “Golf letter” (April 30) concerning the recent Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. The writers must have little to do with their time, or else they were mad that we chose to stand against Martha Burke in her stand against Augusta National Golf Club having the right to not admit women.

If the writers were up on events in Augusta, Ga., they’d have known that the women of Augusta of all races were against Burke coming here for nothing more than a photo opportunity. We have several women in this area who could easily put out the money to join the club if they were so invited. But Augusta National Golf Club chooses to own and operate its own business without Ms. Burke’s input. The only race they left out was the American Indian, of which I am one and proud of it. And I have more to do with my time than to spend it running around a pasture hitting little balls in holes. How’s that for the South! Is that redneck enough for the writers?

If Ms. Burke, Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition and the Ku Klux Klan really want to do something with their time, which I think they have too much of, they should spend it on care packages for our troops. Our troops are really doing something to prove we believe in a democracy and are willing to lay their lives on the line to ensure all people the opportunity to live. People like the two writers are shallow and have really shown it.

Susanne L. ScottEvans, Ga.


This Kansan very much regrets the point of view that the Rev. Franklin Graham has taken toward the religion of Islam. As the faithful sons and daughters of old Father Abraham, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims are closer than almost any other world family. One need not take Rev. Graham to task any more than what is already happening. But I just encourage him in a real study of the Unity of Religious Ideals. This would fill in the gaps of Mr. Graham’s education rather than allowing him to be drawn into divisive public rhetoric. Certainly his prayer should go on as planned, but a future event that includes Islamic imams and others might be a good choice.

Dean OttingerKansas City, Kansas

Membership has its privileges?

I retired after 22 years in the U.S. Air Force, followed by 20 years as a mission-essential civil service employee with the Air Force in Europe. Guess who cannot use the base exchange or commissary?

Guess who can use these facilities? German military guards who are guarding about 60 military posts in Germany. This agreement is between the U.S. military and the Germans. A letter from Germany’s finance minister lifted the restrictions on the Bundeswehr guards. “This is not a political thing,” said a spokesman for the Army Installation Management Agency in Europe. “It’s simply a gesture recognizing that these guys are here helping us, and we’re trying to make their lives a little easier.”

Now let’s see if this balances out. An eight-hour shift by a German military guard is greater than 42 years of service. And the icing on the cake? “The bottom line is, we serve coalition partners everywhere,” the Army and Air Force Exchange Service Europe spokesman said. I didn’t know that Germany was a coalition partner.

Miscarriages of justice are common to servicemembers. Going back in history, one will find Gulf War Syndrome, Agent Orange in Vietnam and Korea’s “medical health for life.” Politicians promised it, but it wasn’t written down on paper, so it doesn’t count.

How do they get away with this? Have readers ever noticed that most politicians are lawyers, and only about 30 percent of them have done any type of military service? To combat this, I urge every servicemember to join a veterans-connected organization such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Officers/Enlisted Service Organization to ensure that their rights, promised by Washington, are kept. Although they may not benefit from the fruits of their labors today, future servicemembers will.

Marion A. CleetonMalaga, Spain

Air Force scandal is appalling

Shame, shame, shame! Fifty-six accusations of rape at the Air Force Academy, the Air Force’s most hallowed institution.

Our airmen put their lives on the line to stop ethnic rape in the Balkans, Kuwait and Iraq, as well as during World War II’s “comfort” raping all over Asia. Now our young cadets and so-called future leaders have been accused of raping our future female leaders at an Air Force sanctuary.

Now Air Force leaders have “reinstated rules.” How naive of me to have thought that Air Force cadets were of such high moral caliber that they didn’t need rules against rape. How did such people get admitted? With pull from “politically correct” politicians?

And our leaders have covered this up! I’m tempted to turn in my Air Force stripes, the last one earned at Da Nang, Vietnam. Shame, shame, shame.

Helmut A. ReichelAviano, Italy

May 6

Masters letter outrageous

“Golf letter” (April 30), which was about the lack of women members at Augusta National Golf Club, left me speechless. It’s outrageous that in this day and age someone would say something like “whether or not rich Southern white women should be allowed to join a private organization and hit a ball around with sticks.” It’s also outrageous that Stars and Stripes would actually print such a racial statement.

To further my outrage, I read the letter “Teed off at Masters” (April 24), which “Golf letter” was referring to. In this day and age I will have both letter writers know that women also have the right to not work at Augusta National Country Club if they choose not to, and to not lay down if it is not of their choosing. Nor do we have to go in the military.

I would further have the writers know that the Masters tournament had no corporate sponsors on television this year. The club went so far as to rent vehicles for the golfers and their families to use during tournament play. Furthermore, Martha Burke didn’t even stay in Augusta to promote the cause she so flamboyantly popularized over the last year.

When a man is invited to join Augusta National Golf Club, his spouse also has the right to use the course. I advise the letter writers to hold their tongues and pens when they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m a Southern white woman from Augusta, Ga.

Lori AtheyWiesbaden, Germany

Symbol of strength

It was very sad to read the letter “What makes a hero” (May 4). It’s such a shame that a story of hope, survival, going down fighting, and the heroic rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch by her comrades is resented by the writer.

As an Army wife of 19 years, the story of Pfc. Lynch gives me great hope and comfort. As I watch my spouse leave for the desert, it helps me breathe a bit easier knowing that what he’s been taught by the Army for 22 years can most certainly help him survive potential combat and capture. It gives me hope that if either of my teenage sons decide to join the military that they’ll be trained properly and that their comrades in arms will do what it takes to rescue them.

Watching my spouse, friends, neighbors and the entire “Iron Family” of the 1st Armored Division pack up and head to the desert, my faith is strengthened with stories such as that of Pfc. Lynch. This is one time I encourage the press to continue on with a story.

Pfc. Lynch’s story is now a symbol of strength, hope, good training, camaraderie and perseverance. At such a tender age, Pfc. Lynch helps assure us all about the quality of our next generation of soldiers. God bless her, those who saved her and her family. She still has a long road to recovery. If Pfc. Lynch makes money by telling her story, good for her.

Pfc. Lynch will remain in my prayers, as will all those serving our country — especially all the “Iron Soldiers” of the 1st Armored Division.

Belinda McCreaMainz-Kastel, Germany

Deli switch

I want to give a big “boo” to the Defense Commissary Agency. I’m currently stationed in Kitzingen, Germany, and three out of five work days a week I go to my local commissary for lunch. I always eat a freshly made roast beef sandwich from the deli.

But guess what? All delis in Germany have now been taken over by a German vendor. That means no more American cheese and no more Healthy Choice products. If I wanted to buy German meats, I’d go to my local E-center or a local market.

Spc. Amanda Jo GonzalezKitzingen, Germany

May 7

Caring family

On April 27, I received word that my grandmother had died. What hurt the most was that my family was thousands of miles away in Hawaii. That evening, my supervisor and I spoke to my commander about going home. The commander said emergency leave is reserved for immediate family and regular leave is generally not approved from contingency locations.

On Monday morning, my supervisor and two close friends knocked on my door. I awoke to the staggering news that my grandfather had taken his own life. I’d already considered that his time would be short because I knew how much he loved my grandma. But I never expected it would end so violently. Again, I wanted more than anything to be home with my family. But the disappointment of the commander’s words the night before had me doubtful that I’d be able to leave.

But before I got off the phone with my family that morning, the ball began rolling. A chaplain was waiting with a hug and a prayer. An hour later, my first sergeant had an official Red Cross message. Within the next hour, my supervisor and first sergeant at my home station had sent a message up the chain of command telling my senior leadership of my situation. I was sent home on emergency leave.

By the end of the day, I was packed and waiting for a C-130 ride the next morning. My deployed unit organized a small farewell ceremony and even arranged for flowers to be waiting for me at home. At my home station, I was able to bypass all mandatory TDY outprocessing. I signed my weapon over to a member of my home unit, turned my contingency gear in to my home station first sergeant and was on a plane 12 hours later.

More of a blessing was that my husband, on regular leave in the States, was able to change his leave category, extend his leave and fly to Hawaii. This was thanks to his first sergeant, my first sergeant and the Air Force Aid Society. He was waiting for me when I got off the plane.

Never in all this time was I burdened with the normal tasks of planning a trip. The only question I had to answer was how many days of emergency leave I’d like to take. I wrapped my arms around my family in Hawaii — half a world away from the Balkans — 40 hours after my supervisor took the 2 a.m. phone call from my mom.

I can’t tell readers everything that took place to get me home, because I didn’t see any of it. I was able to grieve while the ball was rolling. Now I can be strong for my family here, a pillar for them to lean on. I would not be able to do that had I been responsible for the headache of travel plans.

We all need someone to rely on at some point. After reading letter after letter about the almost nonexistent mail service to troops in the desert or leaky family housing, the military would seem unreliable. But that’s not so. It’s a close-knit, caring family of which I’m proud to be a member — as were my grandma and grandpa.

Senior Airman Janel PhillipsHawaii

Veterans' benefits

This is in response to the letter “Base privileges” (May 2). Like the writer, I’m also an Air Force retiree. I was stationed in Germany twice. I retired and chose where I wanted to reside. I chose Dayton, Ohio, to start. Of course part of that decision was that Wright-Patterson Air Base is right there and offered the type of services that I really looked forward to using during my retirement.

Having been stationed in Germany, I knew all about the Status of Forces Agreement by which we must abide. There were plenty of other servicemembers who had chosen to retire or just get out of the military and reside in Germany. Once again, choices were made. I’d venture a guess that they all tried to get jobs on nearby bases for the logistical support. One thing I know they were told upon retirement was that as retirees they weren’t authorized to shop in commissaries and base exchanges.

Yes, there seems to be an abundance of “miscarriages of justice,” as the writer put it. But some are beyond the reach of our own politicians. The agreements made with our host nations are among those. I do agree that veterans should all be active in as many veterans organizations as possible to protect their benefits. But once again, this is a choice made by each veteran.

The writer chose to retire in Spain. And after making that choice, he had the audacity to complain because things aren’t “fair.” That’s like moving next door to a manure factory and then complaining about the smell. If the writer doesn’t like it, he can move back to the good old United States near some major installation and be afforded as many of the benefits he’s entitled to for as long as he likes.

Ron ForebackWiesbaden, Germany

May 8

Lynch praise ridiculous

I’m writing in regard to the letter “Symbol of strength” (May 6) about Pfc. Jessica Lynch. I have to agree with the previous letter about Lynch, “What makes a hero” (May 4).

It’s ridiculous how the military can praise one person’s story and not the stories of thousands of others who were at the same place in the same war, and even those of other prisoners of war as well. They, too, went through hell, and for a much longer period than Pfc. Lynch did. Yet everything is Pfc. Lynch this and Pfc. Lynch that.

In regard to whether Pfc. Lynch makes money from her story, good luck to her. She can’t even remember anything about being a POW. I don’t see why the military and media have so much interest in this one woman who was not shot or stabbed and had fractures when their were people who gave their lives that day and will never come home.

Erica BesongDarmstadt, Germany

Stop loss unfair

This is in reference to all the letters that everybody wrote about stop loss. I’m affected by stop loss like many soldiers in the armed forces. Many of us planned for a civilian life after the Army, and it’s not fair that soldiers who have dedicated their lives to the Army are under stop loss and not able to move on with their lives.

President Bush already said that we’re moving toward peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I don’t get why the military hasn’t even talked about this issue. I understand that the armed forces wants to keep unit cohesion. But most of us like me aren’t even deployed and are affected by stop loss.

I don’t know about everybody else, but my contract says four years of active service and four years of Individual Ready Reserve. There’s not one page that talks about or even mentions stop loss. We served the United States with pride for three, four or 30 years. Now it’s time to move on. It may not be slavery. But keeping people from doing what they feel is best for themselves is some type of slavery. Isn’t freedom what we’re fighting for?

Jose RosadoDarmstadt, Germany

U.S. gas prices

Not everyone is paying the average price for gas in the United States. I recently paid $2.06 per gallon. I wish I were still in Europe and had to pay only $1.86. I complained like everyone else about AAFES and the price of a gallon of gas. But now I say: Give me gas at $1.86.

Tony SweeneyHemet, Calif.

Right to address discrimination

I’m writing in response to the May 4 letter “Set course for weighty topics.”

Apparently, Tech. Sgt. James King doesn’t believe that the issue of discrimination back home merits space in the paper. Of course there are more “monumentally important issues.” Does that mean that Stars and Stripes shouldn’t publish news about any sports at all? Or just golf? Are other sports acceptable? What about Major League Baseball and the basketball playoffs, players and their astronomical salaries? Is that more important than the rights of “rich, white Southern women … to join a private organization and hit a ball around with sticks”?

I don’t believe that reports about discrimination are frivolous. Would it be more important to Tech. Sgt. King if it was black women who wanted to play golf? What if that private course didn’t allow minorities to play? I don’t know Tech. Sgt. King’s racial or ethnic background, but isn’t he a member of the U.S. military, where it’s well known that people can advance regardless of their race?

Maybe he just doesn’t care about discrimination against women. Well, I’m a white woman and, frankly, I think golf is the most boring game ever invented. But it makes me angry that it’s still acceptable to discriminate against women. I have two young daughters who are half Asian, and I want them to have every opportunity, even for different choices than I would make. If they want to be pro golfers some day, good for them! But I don’t want them to be excluded from anything simply because of their race or gender.

Maybe Tech. Sgt. King has a daughter, or maybe he will someday. Maybe she’d want to be a golfer, or maybe she’d want to join the military like her dad and go to the Air Force Academy. Do you think he’ll worry about sexism then?

Karen SagunYokota Air Base, Japan

May 9

Tricare Dental Program

Several weeks ago Stars and Stripes published the letter “Dental insurance” (Feb. 5) concerning an active-duty member from Vicenza, Italy, who was having difficulty disenrolling from the Tricare Dental Program. He felt the services should automatically disenroll members as they come to Europe since family member dental care is available in military dental facilities throughout this area of responsibility.

As the director of the TDP in Europe, I felt a certain responsibility for the writer’s dilemma, so I contacted him in the hopes that I’d be able to solve or at least help him with his problems.

In discussing his situation, it was easy to empathize with the writer and his frustration. I don’t work for the dental contractor, United Concordia Companies Inc., but I do work with it on a daily basis. So I think I can speak with experience that the OCONUS (outside the continental United States) unit at UCCI goes out of its way to make the dental insurance program work well for overseas beneficiaries. I told the writer that I’d get in touch with UCCI, try to determine the problem and help facilitate his disenrollment from the TDP.

But I also asked the writer to give me a minute so I could explain why the military doesn’t automatically disenroll members when they arrive overseas. Enrollment or disenrollment is a personal choice that should be made by each family and needs to be based on a number of factors and judgments. I then listed the things we suggest that each person consider. I’d like to reiterate them now for the benefit of any other TDP enrollee or potential disenrollee. Please consider the following factors:

• One of the main considerations is the amount and kind of dental care available to family members in the local dental treatment facility. After arrival, the sponsor should check with the local dental clinic to see if routine and or specialty dental care is available.• Consider the amount of time family members will spend back in the United States.• Is orthodontic or other specialty care needed/wanted and not available in the DTF?• Possible emergency care needs when the family is away from the overseas DTF.• Advantages of “peace of mind” coverage versus the cost of premiums.

It is only after all of these things have been considered that we feel a sponsor and family can decide if disenrollment is merited or if a family would benefit from continued coverage by the TDP. With these added pieces of information, the letter writer told me not to contact UCCI concerning his disenrollment and that he was going to discuss it with his wife. He felt he might decide to stay enrolled after all.

The TDP is a great dental insurance program, but in many instances in the overseas area it is not necessary to stay enrolled. If anyone has questions or needs assistance with the TDP, please contact Dr. George Schad at DSN: 496-6358 or commercial: 49 (0) 6302 67 6358 or e-mail at Or contact UCCI by calling your country’s AT&T operator, then dial 1888 418 0466 toll free.

Dr. George W. SchadDirectorTricare Dental Program EuropeSembach, Germany

Purchase transaction

This is in regard to purchases made at the Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, post exchange with debit cards. My husband purchased some personal items that he needed in Kuwait prior to leaving for Iraq in March. The transaction for total purchases of $148.90 was debited from our checking account on April 22 not once, but twice. My husband is still in Iraq. Since I’m not sure exactly where he is on any given day, I’m also pretty certain that he doesn’t still have the cash register receipt.

AAFES answer is, “Contact your bank and dispute it.” So hopefully if all goes well, we might have our $148.90 credited by Christmas. But I’m not seriously looking to ever see it again.

The nice woman at AAFES’ information 1-800 number said that mine isn’t the only incident. Really? How many more? And how many perhaps won’t even know they’ve been cheated until they come back, whenever that may be? AAFES made it very clear to me that the burden of proving a dispute and getting money refunded is on customers. If customers don’t complain or dispute charges, AAFES just keeps the money. In my husband’s case, AAFES is $148.90 richer.

Cindi McClainKitzingen, Germany

May 10

Tattoos story

What was the point of the story “Body art” (May 7)? The subtitle was “Tattoos lose stigma, become self-expression for some.” The article featured 19- and 20-year-old airmen spending $150 of their hard-earned money to have their bodies mutilated. When was there ever a stigma among this group?

The article would have been true to its subtitle if it had featured judges, ministers, businessmen and physicians getting tattooed. When tattooing becomes popular with educators, biologists and accountants, then I’ll believe that it’s lost its stigma.

And why, oh why, did Stars and Stripes publish the names, addresses and phone numbers of tattoo parlors in the article? Is Stripes guaranteeing that these businesses adhere to strict health standards that will prevent health problems associated with tattooing?

Why was there no mention that tattoos interfere with MRI scans? The iron oxide used in brown and black ink is a magnetic metal that can convert MRI radio frequency pulses into electricity. Tattooed patients undergoing an MRI can feel burning pain at the site of a tattoo. The pain is either electric current coursing through the skin or their skin being pulled from their bodies by an MRI’s magnetic pull. Sounds like fun, huh?

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I think the article had a pro-tattoo slant and was irresponsible.

Kathi BertschMainz-Gonsenheim, Germany

Retiree mail regulations

On April 22 I walked into the APO at Wolfgang Casern in Hanau, Germany, to mail a small package for my grandson who is an active duty captain currently in Kuwait. The mail clerk refused to accept the little package because it was two ounces over the 16-ounce weight limit for retirees. Retirees are allowed one pound, and this package weighed 18 ounces. I tried to explain that I was doing this for an active duty officer in Kuwait. But the mail clerk went to great lengths to explain the one-pound limit for retirees.

When I walked away from the window, a woman who had been listening to the mail clerk’s lecture walked up to me and said, “I can mail it.” She took the package and walked back up to the same mail clerk with her active duty ID in her hand. The mail clerk said not one word and accepted the package. I paid the woman for the postage.

I was so surprised by this act of kindness by a woman I had never seen before that I just stood there like a clump while she walked away.

I later thought about the situation and came to the conclusion that the woman was standing on my right side, and the right side of my neck is badly scarred. I think she saw all the scars and thought, here’s an old codger who’s been through the fire and is now being treated like a red-headed stepchild. She was right. All those scars are a direct result of my military service in Korea.

I enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in July 1938 and retired from the U.S. Army on July 1, 1973. I know a little bit about rules and regulations. I learned them through two hot wars and one Cold War. I don’t appreciate a long lecture from a mail clerk because a little package is two ounces over the weight limit.

I know mail clerks must follow regulations. But many of those regulations are completely unreasonable and should be changed. Retirees should be given a reasonable allowance for mail. A five-pound limit would be much better.

John W. JohnsonBabenhausen, Germany

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