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'Shaving cream' effort helps save lives in Afghanistan

Low-tech tool is best way to mark location of bombs

POSTED: August 7, 2011 12:41 a.m.
/For The Times

Lt. Paul Herdener is seen in the Sangin District of Afghanistan.

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Through a common, everyday household item, not a high-tech device with a big Pentagon price tag, area residents can help save military lives in one of Afghanistan's deadliest regions.

U.S. Marines in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines' Cherokee Company, are using shaving cream for more than just facial hair in the Sangin district in the Helmand Province.

The white, foamy stuff has come in handy for marking suspected sites of roadside bombs, which have killed or seriously injured many U.S.-led coalition troops in the war-torn country.

It is "hands down the best marking tool available," said Casey M. Brock, commanding officer of C Company, which has some 200-plus Marines and U.S. Navy corpsmen.

He and others under his command, including Lt. Paul Herdener, a 2004 North Hall High School graduate, have detailed how important the shaving cream is to safety.

"Our supply of this much-needed item has run dangerously low, and we literally are living day to day on (it)," Brock said in a letter provided by Herdener's father, Tony Herdener of Hall County.

Herdener, chief financial officer for the Northeast Georgia Health System, started talking up the need in Hall County several months ago. Now a full-blown community campaign led by Herdener and others is in force.

J&J Foods is setting up displays at its stores showcasing the effort, which is known as "Operation Shaving Cream." Shoppers can buy a 12-can case for $12 and pay no additional charge for taxes or shipping. All three locations of J&J Foods - two in Gainesville and one in Dahlonega - are participating.

The displays will explain the shaving cream's war zone purpose and that the item is "saving lives and protecting bodies and limbs," said Darrell Wiley, president and CEO of J&J Foods.

"We want to be part of that," he added.

Kipper Tool Co. at 2375 Murphy Blvd., Gainesville, which supplies industrial-quality tools to businesses, industry and government, will help in "getting that stuff where it needs to go," said Danny Sears, chief operating officer.

"We believe in our troops and what they do," he said. "... We back our military - that's our customer."

The North Georgia Community Foundation at 615-F Oak St., Gainesville, is accepting tax-deductible monetary donations "for the timely purchase and shipping" of the shaving cream, said president and CEO Jim Mathis Jr.

"I think it's important to note that this is an ongoing need," even after Paul Herdener has returned home, Mathis added. "We hope to continue for as long as (military personnel) are there and as long as there's a need."

Also, people can drop off shaving cream cans or caseloads at Milton Martin Honda, 2420 Browns Bridge Road, or the Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., both in Gainesville.

Herdener said The Shipping Depot, which has locations at E.E. Butler Parkway and Thompson Bridge Road, is set up to package and mail cans dropped off at their location and can take the hassle out of the process for those who want to mail their own.

So far, "people have been very responsive," Herdener said of the campaign.

"A lot of people have made (buying and shipping the cans) a weekly ritual. Others have used it as a way ... to teach (their children) about what service is and what it means."

The local effort has a goal of 850 cases, or 10,200 cans.

Herdener first learned about the need from his son, whose company is based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Marines had tried several things to mark possible bomb locations, but nothing seemed to work as well as shaving cream.

Spray paint, for example, left more of a permanent mark, which is "dangerous, because the Taliban can use it against you," Herdener said.

"They can put a (bomb) where the spray paint is," he said.
Typically, "shaving cream stays on the ground about 20 to 30 minutes until it dissipates," Herdener said.

In searching an area for bombs, a combat engineer typically leads the patrol, swinging a metal detector in a radius of two or three feet.

"A big pillow of cream marks an IED," or improvised explosive device, the military's term for a roadside bomb, Herdener said.

"A stripe of cream means (Marines need to) stay within a couple feet of that. If you wander off, you could step on (a bomb)."

The Sangin district has become particularly dangerous ground.

"There are three times the number of IEDs in that region than the rest of Afghanistan," Herdener said.

In a July 29 letter to his parents, Paul Herdener likened the Marines' use of shaving cream to 101st Airborne soldiers using a metal device that created a cricket noise in the Normandy invasion during World War II.

The 101st Airborne used those simple devices as a way to identify themselves to fellow soldiers as they operated in the cover of night.

"Wars are not won by technology alone," said Paul, who has been in Afghanistan since March and will return to the U.S. in late October or early November.

They "are won and lives are saved by the ingenuity of soldiers and Marines doing more with less and finding solutions to problems that technology cannot overcome," he said.

Butch Miller of Milton Martin Honda said he is pleased to see the community rallying around the military in a time of need.

"The downside of this is we have young men and women serving our country there that are in harm's way," he said.

Thankfully, he added, "American ingenuity, the drive to succeed and thrive and survive, has led these young men and women to come up with improvised tactics."



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