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America Supports You: Operation AC Delivers More Than Just Cool Air

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2004 – When soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division rolled into Baghdad, Iraq, returning from Fallujah early one recent morning, there were 10 Christmas trees waiting for them. Also waiting were boots, Harley Davidson T-shirts and other gifts.

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Frankie Mayo and her son, Army Sgt. Chris Tomlinson, pose for a photo after she received the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal during a ceremony at Fort Riley, Kansas, in March. Mayo received the award for her efforts to support troops through Operation Air Conditioner. Courtesy photo

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The surprise left Army Lt. Col. Myles M. Miyamasu, the unit's commander, astounded.

No, Santa had not arrived early. The items were a gift from "Operation Air Conditioner," a small nonprofit organization run by Frankie Mayo and her husband, Mathew.

"You are amazing!" Miyamasu wrote in an e-mail to the Mayos. "The men in my staff were just floored by the trees. I'll take a picture and send to you with guys in front of their trees. Thanks for brightening up their day!"

At the Mayo's Newark, Del., home, crates of letters arrive each week and e- mails slow their computer. Some of the correspondence is from soldiers thanking the Mayos for their generosity; others letters are requests from soldiers in need.

At the organization's Web site, soldiers can put in their request. As long as soldiers don't request a luxury item or something illegal, chances are the Mayos will have a package on the way.

"I will send anything but combat-operations stuff," Frankie Mayo quipped. "I know just about every transportation company that's over there, and so I can get anything anywhere," she said.

For the Mayos, what began as a small shipment of air conditioners to their son's military unit has now grown into a million-dollar operation. They now routinely send items ranging from personal-care products, such as foot powder and bug spray, to commercial-grade appliances.

The Mayos have so far managed to deliver a pizza oven to one unit and a washer and dryer to another. They've shipped medical supplies to a combat support hospital, and toilet seats, tools, and insulation to other units. Frankie said her organization has sent enough Christmas trees to Iraq "to start a small forest."

Operation AC has also gained the couple considerable media exposure, from appearances on ABC's "Good Morning America" to interviews on the British Broadcasting Corporation. Rush Limbaugh mentions the operation frequently on his nationally syndicated radio talk program, Frankie said.

Frankie said Operation Air Conditioner began in June 2003 after the couple's son, Army Sgt. Chris Tomlinson, a corporal at the time and deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, wrote home about 140-degree temperatures in Iraq.

He told his mom the one thing his unit, the 300th Military Police Company, deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas, needed most was relief from the heat. He asked if she could send an air conditioner. His mother replied by shipping 11 window units to the company.

Since then, she now estimates, the operation has shipped some 9,000 air conditioners along with 12,000 space heaters to help keep soldiers comfortable.

She said the operation has raised $2.3 million through private and corporate contributions to help support their efforts as the requests for items keep pouring in.

Just moments before an interview with American Forces Press Service, Frankie said, she got an e-mail from a British soldier who needed cold-weather boots. Her e-mail reply: "Send me the size."

She said she gets contacted by soldiers and Marines every day and is currently helping as many as three units preparing to deploy to Iraq as part of the third major rotation of troops there. This week she has $50,000 worth of supplies bound for Marines at Twentynine Palms, Calif., who are headed to Iraq.

For all her support, Frankie asks for little in return.

"All I ask for in return are combat patches," she said. "Send me a combat patch and a post card so I know you made it back.'"

She said the biggest reward is in knowing her family is doing something to help servicemembers, because "they are the ones giving up so much for us," she said. "Everyone one complains that it's up to the Pentagon to supply everything, but there is a lot that the American public can do to help support (the troops).

"I feel it's my duty," she added. "I didn't really fully appreciate the military until my son went off to war."

That way thinking has been passed down to the Mayo's daughter, Olivia, 12, who has come up with her own way to show her appreciation to military members.

The youngster recently started the "Wounded Soldiers Program," which sends get- well cards to soldiers recuperating at military hospitals.

In March, the Army awarded Frankie Mayo with the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal during a ceremony at Fort Riley, Kansas. The award is one of the highest the Army gives to civilians.

Frankie said the operation will continue until there are no more troops in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other place fighting the war on terror.

"I believe my family will be at this for many years to come," she said. "As long as there are troops who need us, we are there."

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