By REBECCA SANTANA
In an age of multimillion-dollar high-tech weapons systems, sometimes it's the simplest ideas that can save lives. Which is why a New Jersey mother is organizing a drive to send cans of Silly String to Iraq.
American troops use the stuff to detect trip wires around bombs, as Marcelle Shriver of Stratford, Camden County, learned from her son, a soldier in Iraq. Before entering a building, troops squirt the plastic goo, which can shoot strands about 10 to 12 feet, across the room. If it falls to the ground, no trip wires. If it hangs in the air, they know they have a problem. The wires are otherwise nearly invisible.
Now, 1,000 cans of the neon-colored plastic goop are packed into Shriver's one-car garage, ready to be shipped to the Middle East thanks to two churches and a pilot who heard about the drive. "If I turn on the TV and see a soldier with a can of this on his vest, that would make this all worth it," said Shriver, 57, an office manager. The maker of Silly String, Just for Kicks Inc., of Watertown, N.Y., has contacted the Shrivers about donating some.
Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said soldiers and Marines are not forbidden to come up with new ways to do their jobs, especially in Iraq's ever-evolving battlefield. In other cases of battlefield improvisation in Iraq, GIs have bolted scrap metal to Humvees in what has come to be known as "Hillybilly Armor " and have welded old bulletproof windshields to the tops of Humvees to give gunners extra protection.
Medics use tampons to plug bullet holes in the wounded until they can be patched up. Also, soldiers put condoms and rubber bands around their rifle muzzles to keep out sand.
In an October call to his mother, Army Spc. Todd Shriver explained how his unit in the insurgent hotbed of Ramadi had learned from Marines to use Silly String on patrol to detect boobytraps. After sending some cans to her 28-year-old son, Shriver posted notices in her church, St. Luke's in Stratford, and in its newsletter. From there, the effort took off, with money and silly string flowing in.
Shriver said she and her husband, Ronald, 59, a retired salesman, will continue the campaign as long as her son is overseas and she has Silly String to send. "I know that he's going come through this," she said. "I hope they all do."