That post on File770 STILL bothers me,
“You are a fan in proportion to the effort you make to attach yourself to fandom.”
Well, let me tell you about a little effort, now going into it’s sixth year, that hasn’t just “attached” to fandom, but reached out to fans in out-of-the-way places.
Sure, there are efforts like the DUFF, TAFF, and GUFF funds, But I’m talking about reaching out and expanding fandom in places where it’s awfully hard to just go down and get a book. Or even a cup of decent coffee.
It’s not as big as it was a few years ago, but a lot of us have friends stationed out on the pointy end of the stick in all sorts of places that, shall we say, lack amenities. This is the story of Operation Baen Bulk.
And, in some ways, it’s my story as well. I’m ex-USAF (flew B-52s during the 1980s), and still have plenty of buddies who are still in uniform. And I hang with the Baen Barflies, who tend to be militarily oriented.
In October of 2009, one of the gang had deployed to Afghanistan, and to a remote firebase well into Taliban Territory.
Supply runs were infrequent, and limited. He had complained, in particular about coffee. They were so low on supplies, that they were ISSUED 1 styrofoam cup per person every few days, for coffee. When they had coffee.
For those who haven’t served, this was a SERIOUS problem: the US Military RUNS on coffee. Hell, that’s when **I** started drinking coffee.. . .
And then I had a personal hit: I was working for Boeing, and they were downsizing. I was in the first wave of 5000, 15000 of us lost our jobs from October 2009 through March 2010. I had 90 days on payroll, and got moved outside my project area immediately, to a “holding area”. I had a cube, a phone, and a internet-connected computer. Go find a job. Which I did, for about 5 hours a day.
But, as in any job-hunt, there’s a lot of sitting and waiting for people to get back to you. And when you’re one of 5 people occupying a 150-person cube farm, you tend to get depressed. So I read in the downtime, One of the books I was reading at the time was Michael Z. Williamson‘s libertarian opus, “Freehold“. . .
There’s a part of the story where our heroine decides to strike at the invader indirectly, destroying supply convoys and mess facilities. (again, for those who haven’t served, there are two things that destroy morale quickly: mess with their chow, and mess with their mail from home. And there’s the hoary-but-true maxim that armchair generals study strategy, but REAL generals study logistics. Something I learned the hard way, but that’s another story for another day. . . )
And then it hit me: we were looking at the problem the wrong way. Instead of delivering what ONE troop needed, find out what a UNIT needed, and provide it in bulk. Pool money and resources to deliver the most possible supplies to the guys out on the front-lines.
So. who did we send it to ? For starters, The Zombie Killers,
The Zombie Killers were a small Army Training Detachment, assigned to a remote firebase, deep in the wilds of Afghanistan, between 2009 and 2010. Mail was spotty, and they were at the end of a long. difficult supply line, through rough roads that went through the heart of Taliban territory. And yet they were readers. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. In fact, it got to the point that a number of us fans in the US sent them supplies and books on a regular basis. They wore “Zombie Killer” tabs on their shoulder, as well as the Airborne and Ranger tabs they had earned. You might even notice the “3” on their HMMV, straight out of “Zombieland”. But they did more. One also added another custom shoulder tab, taken straight from a John Ringo novel. Another had Star Wars patches on his combat gear. Most returned home after the tour, and still are readers. But they don’t attend cons, aren’t members of clubs, and their idea of cosplay is a proper camouflage paint job on exposed skin.
So what did we do for the Zombie Killers? Well, first, we made SURE they had coffee. One of our gang had a connection with a Panamanian Coffee Company: Cafe Duran. He arranged a large shipment of it to them. Other contributed coffee makers, and re-usable gold coffee filters. Cases of creamer and sugar. And it was Christmastime. So, cookies, lights, TREES. We actually kind of overwhelmed the unit: we ended up supplying the whole firebase.
ONE of the Zombie Killers won’t ever attend a con. Or see his family, or anything else.
He was killed in action on March 12, 2010, in a convoy to a medical facility. He died, fighting for the values that ALLOW Fandom to exist. Remember Sergeant First Class Glen Jacob Whetten. Airborne Ranger. Jake **volunteered** to go deep into enemy territory and train the resistance. With his Boba Fett patch on his ammo pouch. He DIED a Fan. And deserves a large Honor Guard to accompany him to the next life. . .
Shortly afterwards, another fan who a bunch of us kept in touch with, reported a similar problem in Iraq: he was part of an Ammo unit, whose job was not just to maintain an Ammunition Dump, but to deliver ammo to units who were in combat and running low. At all hours of the day and night. They had plenty of supply lines, but in the middle of the night, delivering ammo at high speed over rough territory. . . well, a styrofoam cup will not last long, assuming you don’t spill your coffee over a particularly bad bump, and with no McDonald’s to sue in sight. .
Obviously, they needed something spill-proof AND durable, and that they could hold. And thus was born, the Baen Bulk Cup. We found a vendor, drew up a design, and decided to sell them to subsidize sending them to the troops, A single cup with artwork cost about $2.80 each, delivered (to my place). We sold them online and via word of mouth, at 10 bucks each, Each one paid for two more to be sent forward to the troops. Beginning in January, 2010, and for the next 8 months, we had 600 travel coffee mugs manufactured, and over 400 of them were sent forward to various units in Afghanistan, Iraq, and eleswhere in the Middle East where we had troops deployed. We only ended it when that particular item was discontinued by the manufacturer. . .
And, frankly, because my wife was getting tired of boxes of cups in the living room, stacked nearly to the ceiling, and 5 runs a week to the post office to dispatch orders (grin)
Still, we delivered. And we didn’t stop. We had other units, full of fans, with other needs. A medic needed rehydration salts: we provided a commercial product that you added to a canteen of water to treat dehydration (the Army had SOME, but it was in short supply). Another unit needed flashlights that didn’t have incandescent bulbs, so we sent a couple of cases of LED Flashlights to them. And always, some “pogey bait”.
For those of you who HAVEN’T worn the Uniform, “pogey bait” is non-issue food. Beef Jerky. Hard Candy. Dried Fruit. Nuts. Snack crackers (like those little packs of “Lance” Peanut Butter crackers and similar). We provided. Even unusual stuff, like bulk chewing gum and stick-packs of Gatorade-type hydration mixes to add to canteens and CamelBak bladders. To date, we’ve sent nearly $6K of pogey bait and comfort items to deployed units.
By 2013, most of our deployed fans had returned to the World (again, for those who haven’t been associated with the military, re-deployed back to the States, otherwise known as the Land of the Big BX. Don’t ask. . .), and yet we wanted to keep the ball rolling. So a few of us decided to re-focus things on RECOVERING GIs’. Because all too many of our troops came home, grievously injured, and facing long stays in military hospitals and rehab facilities. Which generally don’t have all the amenities a civilian hospital does, like a TV in every room, internet access, etc.
We decided, as fans, that we could do something about that. From experience, we knew that deployed troops often read voraciously. . . . but generally, the books donated to military hospitals don’t generally fit the interests of people stuck in them. So we decided to give them something good to read. A LOT of something good to read. Between talking to various authors and various publishing houses, plus public domain e-books, we developed a collection of over 500 books of likely interest to a wounded troop in recovery, ranging from history, and especially military history, classic fiction (the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and H.G. Wells amongst them), and SF and adventure books ranging from Golden Age SF, through current bestsellers.
We also raised money to buy 80 Amazon Kindles, and loaded the library on each, and sent them off to Soldier Support Units, Hospital Chaplains, and Fisher House locations all over America. With chargers, backup DVDs, and a manual to manage the Kindles at each site. We still deliver the DVD of the library and support material on request, and are currently discussing how to expand and improve the concept in 2015. Because we’re not done yet. Not even close.
And THAT, my friends, is how you “attach to fandom”. . . .