Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mission to Afghanistan, with Blogs and Hugs; Jacksonville Writer Wants to Show Troops Some Appreciation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mission to Afghanistan, with Blogs and Hugs; Jacksonville Writer Wants to Show Troops Some Appreciation

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT SOERGEL

Mare Contrare knows just what she'll say to the first American fighting man or woman she meets in Afghanistan.

"I'm just going to go up, introduce myself, ask them who they are and, of course, ask them: 'Can I give you a hug?' "

Contrare is leaving for Afghanistan Thursday to give "mom hugs" to the troops who need them - even if her bulletproof vest gets in the way when she goes in for a squeeze.

The vest, complete with metal plates, weighs 22 pounds. It was just one item in a long list of things she needed to get approval for her trip to the war zone. It's a good thing the combat helmet she ordered finally arrived this week.

After Contrare, a 52-year-old writer and blogger, came up with the idea for mom hugs, she talked her way into a story assignment from the Saturday Evening Post. She was then able to apply to be embedded as a civilian journalist with troops at Camp Leatherneck, a Marine Corps post in Helmand province.

She told the authorities the truth: She's on a goodwill mission.

"Hugs are very restorative," Contrare said Tuesday, just 48 hours before she's scheduled to leave for Afghanistan. "It's an amazing, simple thing you can do."

Still, not many well-meaning civilians with such an idea would be willing to go through the considerable red tape and expense (more than $5,000 so far) to make it real.

Contrare said there's really no big explanation for what she's done. "I make things happen," she said. "People who know me know that if I get an idea, I do it."

You might find a hint of that drive in her name, which is pronounced "Mary Contrary." She officially changed it at age 38 or so, after losing a bet with her now ex-husband. Though she'd rather keep the particulars of the wager a secret, she says she's not one to back out on a bet.

Besides, Contrare likes the new name. It suits her, since it was always her nickname, anyway, ever since Mare Margaret Elizabeth Goddard began making up her own mind about things.

"I'm not as contrary as I used to be," she said. "Of course, I say that, which probably makes me contrary."

Her mission is her idea, conceived this year while feeling sorry for herself and wondering how she could help other people. …

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