War on the cheap

The Iraq war has been the war fought on the cheap – not enough body armor, not enough armor on vehicles, not enough night vision equipment.

It has been the war in which packages from back home have had to fill some crucial needs.

Now, we have chow call at the Greenwood Credit Union in Warwick, R.I. It’s the latest in home-front intervention. It’s partially in response to the unthinkable image of U.S. Marines approaching Iraqi citizens and asking for food because they do not have enough.

There’s a big barrel in the lobby of the credit union on Post Road in Warwick. It’s decorated with ribbons and it’s there because Karen Boucher-Andoscia’s son, Nick Andoscia, called and asked his mother to send food.

Nick’s a Marine corporal. He was in Afghanistan last year, where there was enough to eat. He’s in Iraq now even though his enlistment was up last year.

He’s one of those Marines who can’t walk away. His unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Marines, was headed for Iraq and he just couldn’t head for civilian life while those he had served with were heading to their second war.

“He extended,” says Karen. “He told me, ‘I really have to go. I can’t let my guys go alone.’ “

There are a lot of stories like that. We don’t hear them much. They’re kind of personal.

So Nick Andoscia went to Iraq. And hunger soon followed.

“I got a letter,” says Karen. “And he had called me before that. He said, ‘Send lots of tuna.’ “

Nick told his mother that he and the men in his unit were all about 10 pounds lighter in their first few weeks in Iraq. They were pulling 22-hour patrol shifts. They were getting two meals a day and they were not meals to remember.

“He told me the two meals just weren’t cutting it. He said the Iraqi food was usually better. They were going to the Iraqis and basically saying, ‘feed me.’ “

Karen started packing in that wartime tradition as old as mothers and sons. She packed a lot of the packaged tuna, not the canned.

She happened to mention her hungry son to people she works with at Greenwood Credit Union, where she is a teller and has worked for 30 years.

Pounds and pounds of food started showing up amid the daily business of loans and deposits and withdrawals. Marianne Barao, the branch manager, said it could be done, the credit union could become the place where people help feed hungry Marines who are risking their lives on a skimpy diet.

“We sent out 51 pounds this week,” says Karen. “There are customers coming in saying, ‘What do you need?’ “

The credit union is paying the cost of packing and shipping.

Any packaged food is welcome. So are baby wipes because showers are even rarer than a full meal. And foot powder.

Nick Andoscia, who is 22, is due to come home later this year. He wants to study criminal justice, his mother says, then go to work for a fire or police department.

But for the next few months he will be on patrol in western Iraq, dealing with the heat and the dirt and the danger.

The last thing he should have to worry about is an empty stomach. The last thing he should have to do is approach Iraqis and ask for food.

You have to wonder what the gracious hosts must think when a fighting man from the richest country on earth comes to their door in search of something to eat.

(Bob Kerr is a columnist for The Providence Journal. E-mail bkerr(at)projo.com.)