What started as a request for recipes over an electronic bulletin board has accelerated into Operation Cookie, a grass-roots nationwide effort to airlift cookies to troops in the Middle East.

It all began Aug. 20 when Karen Buker of Federal Way, Wash., posted a bulletin board message on Prodigy, a computer service with more than 460,000 subscribers. She asked for good cookie recipes that would travel well so she could bake them for her 28-year-old son Michael, who is on active duty in the Navy in the

Middle East.

"I started getting responses immediately," the mother of 10 said in a telephone interview. "People didn't want to just send me recipes, they offered to bake cookies for Michael.

"It was wonderful. I felt that America didn't want any more soldiers feeling unappreciated like they did in Vietnam. There was a feeling that people wanted to make up for the injustices of the past."

People from all over the country started baking cookies and mailing them to the troops in Saudi Arabia. But a combination of weight restrictions and uncertain delivery dates started to put a damper on the project.

Then Sylvia Mease of Palm Bay, Fla., who is credited with the deployment of Operation Cookie, came up with a solution. The British wife of a retired Air Force master sergeant, Mrs. Mease convinced her husband's squadron at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida to airlift the cookies on a space-available basis. Thus far, she says volunteers have produced 100 boxes, containing approximately 8,400 cookies.

About 75 boxes have been shipped to Saudi Arabia, according to Sgt. Bill Sankey, chief of public affairs for the 2nd Command

Communications Group at Patrick Air

Force Base.

"We have heard through word of mouth that some of the cookies have arrived," he says. "I am sure they are delighted. Any piece of home is nice."

Operation Cookie, which will be shipping cookies from Florida and California, has become a full-time effort for Mrs. Mease. A service now answers the Mease phone "Operation Cookie," and Mrs. Mease has been working from 7 a.m. to past midnight daily.

Mrs. Mease, who is still a British citizen, nonetheless sees Operation Cookie as a patriotic project.

"My husband was in the military and spent a year away from home on a remote [assignment] in Korea," she says. "Those guys and gals like to get a little touch of home. We wanted to get something going to make them realize that we really do

support them. I never realized it would go this far."

The California segment began after Stephen Butler saw messages from people on the West Coast who were hesitant to send packages to Florida. An American Red Cross volunteer, he tapped his sources at Marine and Navy bases in San Diego and the bicoastal cookie airlift was born.

"Sending cookies is like sending hugs to these men and women overseas," he says. "They desperately need the support."

The Maryland effort just got off the ground this week when Shannon Womack of Crofton decided to contact newspapers and television stations to publicize Operation Cookie. After reading about the project on her computer bulletin board, she baked 2 1/2 dozen hermit cookies. But

she felt she should do more.

Although Mrs. Mease says she was not familiar with the Maryland effort, she says she's thrilled that volunteers across the nation have taken on the project.

"I got involved about a week and one half ago," Mrs. Womack says. "I had to muster up enough courage and see if I was gutsy enough to talk to the media."

Wendy Gunderson of Rosedale and her 13-year-old daughter baked cookies twice in the past week. A member of a military family, Mrs. Gunderson says the nationwide cookie bake seemed like the normal thing to do.

"I remembered all the people that I knew who had been on ships overseas," she says. "It's like sending them a part of home."

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