The relationship between St. Mary's parish in Clinton Heights and the U.S. Army is about to get personal. Instead of shipping supplies and money to undisclosed military bases as it has for a decade, the parish has adopted a specific platoon of 25 radio telephone operators who recently deployed from Colorado to Afghanistan.

Parishioners do not yet know the platoon's exact needs, so they're sending standard items. This spring and summer, for example, they will collect bug spray, anti-itch cream, sunscreen and flypaper for the soldiers. They call it "Operation Don't Bug Me."

The platoon is "already in a defensive posture in this military endeavor," explained Rev. David LeFort, pastor of St. Mary's. "They're going to have bugs attacking them, too. We want to make their lives just a little bit easier, because we know their comfort level is nothing likes ours."

St. Mary's is responsible for sending monthly care packages to meet the platoon's needs for the entirety of its deployment, which is expected to last through the end of the year. The parish and platoon connected through, which was suggested by Melvin Roads American Legion Post 1231 in East Greenbush. Last fall, the post began helping St. Mary's cover mailing costs for its monthly collections for the military.

Past parish collections for troops have included letter-writing supplies, cold-weather items and beef jerky, which Father LeFort says forces soldiers to drink water and keeps anxiety levels down because of the distraction of chewing. At Christmas, the parish sent a military family $500 for their needs. Faith formation students make cards to send to the military.

Father LeFort said the military tradition and the charitable spirit at St. Mary's are so strong that he assumed the parishioners would be on board with adopting a platoon. About 40 percent of the congregation stands to be recognized on Veterans Day; many other parishioners are police officers or firefighters.

"It seems to be bred into our upbringing here," the pastor remarked.

The collections are a natural extension of what the parish already does on a regular basis, collecting food, clothing and other items for local, national and global organizations.

"I've never, ever heard any complaint or criticism about asking people to share," Father LeFort boasted. And "we always pray each week for our military men and women. They're making a terrific sacrifice; the least we can do is pray for them. The next step is to aid their physical needs, so this is just a small way of showing our gratitude."

(For information on St. Mary's military collections, call 449-2232.)