May 07. 2003 6:01AM
Letters from home find wrong Marine

Bob Arndorfer

Sybil Haveard says she is most worried because the man answering letters to her grandson is too affectionate.

After weeks of sending letters and packages to her grandson serving in the Marines in Iraq, Sybil Haveard of Gainesville was thrilled finally to get two letters from him in Monday's mail.

At least she thought they were from her grandson, Lance Cpl. Randall Martin of the 7th Engineering Support Battalion.

In fact, the letters were from another Martin she and her family don't know, a Marine with another battalion in Iraq.

"He starts one letter, 'Hi Granny,' " said Haveard, who signs "Granny" in her letters to her grandson, who was born and grew up in Punta Gorda. " 'I am sorry that I haven't wrote you since I got your letter . . .'

"This kid's intercepting the letters and packages we've been sending to my grandson," she said. "And he's writing to us as if we sent the mail to him. I would like the commanding officer in this guy's battalion to know he's got a problem."

The letter-writer is not assuming Randall Martin's identity. Some comments in his letters suggest he may think he's the family's pen pal.

Haveard said she is concerned that her grandson isn't getting mail from her, as well as from his mother and girlfriend in the Port Charlotte area, all of whom have sent him letters or packages three or four times a week.

But more disconcerting, she said, is the uncomfortably familiar tone the other Martin has adopted in his letters.

"Randall's girlfriend has gotten five letters from (the other Martin), and she's very frightened," Haveard said. "He's writing to her as if they're sweethearts. He starts them out, 'My dear sweetheart,' and ends them with 'All my love.'

"And he says that when he comes home he wants to visit everyone who has written to him," she said. "That's scary."

Communicating with loved ones in the war zone at best can be a challenge, said Capt. Shawn Turner in the public affairs office of the U.S. Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon. But mostly his office has dealt with concerned families trying to track the whereabouts of their loved ones.

"I haven't heard of that before," Turner said of Haveard's experience with the intercepted mail.

Turner said Haveard needs to write letters explaining the situation to the commanding officer, executive officer and sergeant major in her grandson's battalion as well as the same leadership in the other Martin's unit.

"She should write the same letter so everyone in the chain of command knows what's going on," Turner said. "They'll recognize it as an issue of concern and deal with the Marine."

Turner said regular mail was somewhat delayed during the combat phase of the war because of security and other restrictions. Also, he said, the speed with which the forces moved through Iraq contributed to mail delays.

Mail call is getting faster. Lt. Col. Stan Heath, spokesman for the U.S. Army, said the turnaround time for delivery of mail to and from Iraq now is about 10 days, down from three weeks or more during the fighting.

Haveard said her family has tracked her grandson by reading online reports from reporters embedded with his unit. Turner said the Marine Corps has set up toll-free telephone hot lines to help families track their loved ones' units when direct communication is difficult.

The two "family readiness" hot lines are (866) 676-0662, a line that is operated at Camp Pendleton, Calif., for families of Marines based west of the Mississippi River; and (800) 451-6227, a line established at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to handle requests for information on units based east of the Mississippi.

"During the conduct of the war, the lines were manned 24 hours a day and updated daily," Turner said.