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Minnesota Legionnaire leads GPS donation effort for troops

Up near Saint Cloud, Minn., Ed Meyer is busy helping our troops find their way around Iraq. Hmm. He must be using gigantic semaphore flags, right?


Actually, Meyer is equipping soldiers headed to Iraq with their own global positioning system (GPS) receivers. They come in mighty handy when you're on patrol and don't know the local language. GPS is a navigation/location system that works off 32 satellites orbiting the Earth. They transmit signals that give GPS users their exact locations - even altitudes. It only takes a few seconds to get the info, and it's usually accurate within a meter or so.

Meyer says he's received plenty of help from fellow Legionnaires at Post 621 in St. Augusta. In turn, they're also getting support from other Legion posts and community organizations - even a Lions Club as far away as Donna, Texas. Plenty of inquiries are coming in to Meyer about his "GPS Technology Aids Troops" project.

"Some of these people have sons and daughters serving in Iraq," Meyer says. "The soldiers who go over there do not have their own GPS receivers. They can't read any of the road signs, which are often wrong." Thus, troops have to depend on military GPS units that are often carried in Humvees and other vehicles.

He tells a story about how one lead vehicle in a Baghdad convoy took a wrong turn, using a standard-issue GPS. Sgt. Gaylan Heacock was in that convoy, carrying his Ed Meyer-issued GPS. It turned out the convoy was headed into a very dangerous sector. The officer in charge turned to Heacock and shouted, "Use your GPS and get us out of here!" They did.

An Army veteran, Meyer is a retired professor from Saint Cloud State University. He was working part-time at the local Gander Mountain sporting-goods store when a former student called him up; he was deploying with his Minnesota National Guard unit to Iraq and wanted some advice on what kind of GPS receiver to buy. Meyer talked it over with his store manager, then bought three GPS units.

Just before Christmas 2006, Meyer got together with three soldiers and their company commander and taught his first seminar on how to use the GPS. After that, word started to spread about helping keep America's warriors safe by giving them their own GPS receivers. Meyer remembers a Korean War veteran who attended one of his seminars. "He teared up right there during the session," Meyer says. "He wondered how many lives might have been saved from ‘friendly fire' in Korea if GPS receivers had been around."

So far, St. Augusta Legionnaires have donated about 60 GPS receivers to soldiers - mostly Minnesota Guardsmen - heading for Iraq or Afghanistan. The precious, life-saving devices are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each GPS receiver costs about $160, including a data chip for Middle East geography. Post 621 is providing most of the funding for purchases but needs more sponsors.

"We want more Legion posts and other groups to get involved and raise funds for this project," Meyer says. "We've got soldiers over there driving around with wounded buddies, getting lost in the desert for a couple of hours. We need to get them more of these GPS units."

Send donations to the St. Augusta American Legion Women's Auxiliary, 1894 247th St., Saint Cloud, MN 56301, or call (320) 252-6693. To learn more about the "GPS Technology Aids Troops" project, and read testimonials about GPS receivers from troops who used them, click on the link below.