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June 20, 2007

Vendors vs. Veterans

Here's a little story out of my hometown. A little background - after the first Gulf War, some veterans in Maine thought it would be nice to greet the troops coming back from that conflict. Many of them were Vietnam Vets who still remember the less-than-warm welcome they received upon coming home, and wanted to give today's vets a better memory.

The idea really took off. According to the organization's website, the troop greeters have met over 400,000 troops and provided free cell phones, cookies and hugs.

I've been at the airport when some vets have returned and watched the greeters at work and the response of the troops. It's pretty moving stuff.

Thanks to some bureaucrats at the Bangor International Airport, the troop greeters will no longer be able to provide a taste of home to troops coming home from the war.

Homemade treats long provided by the area’s volunteer Maine Troop Greeters disappeared at the airport about a month ago after BIA began enforcing a ban on such giveaways.

"I think I speak for most everybody when I say I think it’s very sad we cannot do it," greeter Gary Mock of Hampden said Tuesday. "The cookies, candy and everything we have here is all in support of the troops and to thank them."

Some greeters grumble that the rules changed because of jealous airport vendors, but BIA blames liability and strict rules that must be followed by airport concessionaires.

Liability and rules. Because you just know some guy coming home from Iraq will sue the pants off some lady who made him cookies if he gets sick.

Not sure I buy the thing about airport concessionaires, either. The troop greeters aren't selling this food, they're giving it away. Different circumstances, different rules, right? To be honest, though, it's hard to tell exactly why they did this, considering all the excuses used by BIA assistant director Tony Caruso:

Tony Caruso, the airport’s assistant director, said Tuesday the issue revolves around liability. "We have people who bake things at home, and that is very hard to regulate."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has strict regulations on preparation, temperature control and handling that all airport concessionaires must adhere to, Caruso said. Ensuring that all food is properly prepared and stored is a safety and security issue, he said...

He said the airport wanted to make sure it did not violate any contracts it has with concessionaires, since they hold the exclusive agreement to provide food to travelers.

So which is it?

Safety and security? Liability? Or respect for concessionaires? I'm thinking the latter...

Next door to the troop greeter room in the airport is the Red Baron Restaurant and Coffee Shop. No managers returned phone calls Tuesday.

The city and BIA officials have vowed to hold a meeting in the near future with the airport concessionaires and troop greeters to devise an agreement and outline foods that greeters can provide, Caruso said.

Wait...if it's about liability or safety and security, why allow greeters to provide any food at all? Why get the vendors involved in creating an "agreement?" If this were about following USDA or FAA regulations, one would think the conversations would take place between the regulators, the airport and the troop greeters. There's no reason to include the vendors if compliance with federal regulations is the explanation.

It seems to me some angry vendors see every veteran eating a donated cookie as money out of their pockets. Since they've won this battle, I hope they at least have the decency to offer the troops a free cup of coffee or something.

Oh, I'm sorry...would that be a liability issue?

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posted by Slublog at 07:02 PM

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