You Won’t Believe This Casualty of War

Soldiers face the worst kind of dangers. Gunfire. Explosives. Missiles. Bombs. But who knew their biggest worry might be a chocolate chip cookie?

That’s the ridiculous message being sent to a group called the Maine Troop Greeters, which provides applause, hugs, smiles – along with cookies, cakes and fudge – for troops coming back from war through the Bangor International Airport.

Not anymore.

Too dangerous, the greeters were told.

“We have people who bake things at home, and that is very hard to regulate,” the airport’s assistant director, Tony Caruso, told the Bangor Daily news last week.

And so a food tradition that has been going on for years – the group was formed in 1991 and, according to reports, has welcomed nearly half a million troops since 2003 – must come to an end.

Because you never know what Granny might be putting in that fudge.

And you wonder why this country is so screwed up. For the love of profits?

Near as I can tell, no soldier ever went down due to the macadamia nut cookies served by the Maine Troop Greeters. There was no lawsuit from a GI writhing in pain in some hospital bed, moaning, “It was the cake, it was the cake!”

Quite the contrary. According to everything you read – and I have been to the Bangor airport and can attest to the friendliness of the people there – these volunteers are doing the very thing that so many of us don’t do, and the very thing our troops need the most: putting their cookies where their mouths are.

Instead of telling each other “of course, I support the troops” (even if you don’t support the war), these folks in Maine are showing it. After a long stint in Iraq or Afghanistan, the sight of your countrymen clapping as you walk through the gate, offering hugs, yelling thanks and, yes, providing you some good old-fashioned American sweets is precisely what soldiers need, and precisely the kind of thing more of us should be doing for them.

Just ask anyone who came home from Vietnam. That greeting – or lack of greeting – stayed with many soldiers as long as the memories of the war.

But the Bangor airport management, apparently, isn’t interested in that. It has rules to follow. Or else, as some reports have suggested, it is caving in to complaints from the airport vendors, who see their food business being usurped by the free doughnuts or fudge.

Wouldn’t that be typical? Let’s not have any acts of kindness if they cut into somebody’s profit. A risk we all can take?

As a veteran of many airports, I, personally, would be more worried about some of the food I buy from the vendors than I would be eating home-baked cookies from a caring volunteer.

I also wonder when everything became so dangerous. Caruso told the New York Times: “When certain foods are not properly handled, there’s potential for food-borne illness, and that’s something we want to try to avoid.”

I don’t know. Seems to me we all grew up taking cookies from our neighbors, digging into each other’s brown bag school lunches, chomping on Halloween treats, grabbing refreshments from open plates at PTA meetings or church gatherings or office get-togethers. I’m yet to know anyone who croaked from that.

But I do know a malaise when I see one. And there is a malaise over this war, and people are at each other’s throats, and about the only thing everyone can agree on is that those who serve and fight and suffer should be embraced for their sacrifice.

So if a group of volunteers wants to do that, we could cajole the rules, tell the vendors to care less about their profits, and live with the risk that a peanut-butter brownie poses, couldn’t we?

I mean, I’ve heard of dumb bureaucracy before, but this takes the cake. And the cookie.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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