Keeping it cool
Vets raise money for local soldier’s comfort
Originally published June 30, 2007

By Alison Walker-Baird
News-Post Staff

Got $5 in your wallet? Each Lincoln could keep a local soldier more comfortable in Iraq's oppressive temperatures this summer.

Local veterans and volunteers are sending boxes of cooling gear to Maryland National Guard soldiers from Frederick and throughout the state deploying to Iraq. The group's fundraisers have generated enough money to buy cooling sets for 750 soldiers.

About 10 members of the Frederick Korean War Veterans Association Chapter No. 142 packaged kits of camouflage-patterned cooling neck and head wraps Friday afternoon at the Frederick AMVETS Post No. 2.

Chapter member Bob Eader of Frederick said he hopes other groups throughout the country start similar fundraisers.

"This is a way we can show support for our troops," Eader said. "If it makes them more comfortable, it's well worth our time and effort."

Iraq's summer temperatures can reach 140 degrees. The wraps help lower the body's core temperature, not only helping soldiers chill out but also preventing heat-related deaths.

About 1,300 soldiers from the guard's Pikesville-based 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are deploying this summer. The mobilization includes 650 soldiers from the guard's 1st battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment in the 58th combat team.

Soldiers in the 1-175th, which includes the Frederick-based Alpha Company, are training at Fort Dix, N.J., and will leave for Iraq in mid to late August.

During Friday's event, the veterans stuffed gallon-size ziptop bags with one neck wrap and one head wrap so the unit could easily distribute the kits before the soldiers deploy.

The chapter's treasurer, Bob Mount of Lewistown, served in the Korean War from July 1950 to September 1951.

He said the project came from his desire to show support for the country's troops by doing something tangible. Mount has learned from Iraq veterans they had trouble sleeping in the oppressive heat.

"If you can put something cool around your beck, maybe you can sleep a little better," he said. "Here's this one little thing that can make your life easier."

The group plans to give the kits to a unit official heading to Fort Dix to distribute. Mount said he'd like the soldiers to have the kits in hand when they put their boots on the ground in Iraq, but the volunteers will mail the boxes overseas if necessary.

The volunteers bought the cooling gear from California-based manufacturer Allegro Industries, at a bulk rate of less than $5 per soldier. A long tie-like wrap loops around the neck and the head wrap can be worn under the soldier's helmet, covering the forehead and back of the neck.

The items contain polymer crystals that swell and turn cold when soaked in water for a few minutes. The wraps stay cold for up to several days and are reusable and lightweight.

The veterans began organizing the donation after reading about Alpha Company soldiers leaving for Fort Dix in May. Eader learned about the body cooling products from the website for the Utah-based Cool Marines program, which is supported by the non-profit Healing Field Foundation.

Mount contacted the 58th combat team's officials, who said they would welcome the cooling gear.

The veterans and other volunteers held a fundraiser earlier this month in the Valley Mall in Hagerstown. The Kiwanis Club of Frederick and individuals have also donated money.

The Hagerstown fundraiser was the easiest the group has ever held, Eader said. Rather than soliciting donations, people approached their table. One couple donated more than $100 between them.

"We're helping the troops -- whether you like the war or don't like the war, you support the troops," Eader said.

For details or to donate, contact Mount at 301-898-7952.