During the Spanish-American war, members of the Salvation Army were on the front lines with the military troops. In World War II, they shared foxholes with soldiers. Over the decades, soldiers all over the world - in Panama, England, Vietnam, France, Germany, Korea - have been greeted with beverages, doughnuts and offers of assistance by members of the group.
That tradition seems to be ending with Operation Desert Storm.Although British and Canadian Salvationists are providing direct support services for the military personnel from those countries, senior U.S. Defense Department officials have said that the Salvation Army will not be allowed to provide direct support to front-line personnel in the Persian Gulf, according to Col. Kenneth Hood, national chief secretary of the Salvation Army.
Hood said that the U.S. Salvation Army is still involved in aggressive negotiations with Defense and hope to be able to take a more active role in supporting U.S. troops. In the meantime, Salvationists are putting together efforts to support the troops from home.
"We have always been on the front lines," said Maj. Russell R. Fritz, commanding officer and Salt Lake Basic coordinator. "In 1917, we were right in the trenches with the troops. In World War II, we were founding members of the USO, although we broke with them in the late '60s.
"In Korea, we had places for the soldiers to come back to. We went to hospitals to help the wounded with things like letter-writing. And we have Salvation Army officers who are in the military in Operation Desert Storm."
The Salvation Army will probably provide support to U.S. military personnel through a "terrible back-door approach," Fritz said, funneling money to the Canadian and British Salvationists so they can serve American troops. During Vietnam, money was given to the Australian Salvation Army to help Americans, since there were some limitations placed on the U.S. Salvationists.
"I'm in the Salvation Army today because of my contact with the Salvation Army when I was in the military in the early '60s," Fritz said.
Fritz spent most of his military service in England and Germany. The Salvation Army became important to him when he was in a hospital, recuperating from a knife wound received in East Berlin. There, Salvationists offered to write letters for him and provided him with companionship and services. "There was no reason in the world why they would come and ask me if I needed help," he said. "But they did. That made me take a serious look at the organization and I wanted to be a part of it.'
The Salvation Army has provided services to soldiers at home, as well. When Fritz was in San Diego, he led a group of Salvationists who met sailors when their ships came in, providing refreshments, answering questions and offering tickets to shows.
"As long as they were in uniform, we served them," he said. "The Salvation Army has always made a difference."