Baking For Baghdad

04.27.09
Everyone says they support the troops. But here’s something you can actually do for them.
soldier cookies

I’m a child of the ’60s. You could call me a dove, a peacenik even. So I never imagined I would become part of a so-called “war effort.” That is, I didn’t until I heard from my friend Alan Burks.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Alan’s oldest son, Peter, decided to enlist in the Army. Tragically, Second Lt. Peter Burks was killed in Baghdad on November 24, 2007, when a bomb planted just outside the Green Zone blew up his Stryker armored vehicle. He was 24 years old.

In the aftermath of Peter’s death, Alan decided to reach out to other Gold Star families (Gold Star Families for Peace is an organization founded in January 2005 by individuals who lost family members in Iraq and are thus entitled to a Gold Star Lapel Button), and this spring he sent out an email blast soliciting donations. He then arranged for American Airlines to fill a cargo jet with supplies for the soldiers still fighting in Iraq. Scanning his list of suggested items—pencils, soccer balls, athletic socks—I had a sweeter thought. Could I bake cookies? Alan thought that was an excellent idea.

Unsure which kind of confection would travel best, I called Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez, Gourmet’s resident cookie expert, for advice. “Oatmeal cookies are sturdy,” she answered without hesitation. Peanut butter cookies and ginger snaps were good choices, too. “Whatever you send,” Miraglia Eriquez cautioned, “don’t stack them high, or they’ll crumble.” Packing technique was also much on the mind of Lyndsay Leybold, who oversees Operation Baking Gals, an organization that unites nearly 3,000 home cooks nationwide who bake treats for American soldiers each month. During World War II, Leybold told me, cookies sent to Europe were kept fresh by slipping an apple peel between layers of paper towels. “Today, I protect each pair of cookies by placing them back to back in plastic wrap,” she advised.

Acutely aware of who I was cooking for, I felt a nearly grotesque sense of imbalance. These men and women are risking their lives daily, and I show my appreciation with ginger snaps? But wouldn’t it be worse to do nothing? War, after all, is a little word that’s big enough to camouflage the sad fact that no matter where, no matter when, armed conflict is always created by old men, who outsource the fighting to young people. Most soldiers don’t want to fight any more than I do. With this in mind, I mailed off what I hope tastes like a reminder that peace will someday return.

Make cookies, not war.

Stephen Henderson is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Photographs courtesy of Stephen Henderson