WaPo‘s John Kelly may have scooped Y&H on the story about sending grills to a barbecue-starved soldier in Afghanistan, but the columnist omitted one interesting angle: the problem that Grillworks owner Ben Eisendrath encountered when shipping to a war zone.
When Eisendrath received a request for his Argentine-style grill from a soldier familiar with South American parrillas, the owner quickly packed up four grates (minus the grill frames and fire boxes) and took them to his usual shipper, FedEx. (Why only grates? “I didn’t want to hear any stories about casualties because they were trying to save the grill,” says Eisendrath, an Adams Morgan resident.)
There was just one problem: FedEx doesn’t ship to only ships to some Army P.O. boxes in Afghanistan. Eisendrath, unfortunately, learned this only after his stainless steel grates (value: $600-$700) were languishing in Germany, waiting for transport into the war zone.
“We jumped over all sort of hoops and bent over backwards to try to get it from the FedEx system to him,” Eisendrath told Y&H. The soldier (name withheld to protect the semi-innocent) even wrote letters to FedEx on Defense Department letterhead.
“I’ve got a sheaf of letters back and forth from the German authorities and FedEx, saying there’s just nothing we can do,” Eisendrath says. So FedEx sent the grates back.
This wrangling took more than eight days, which is forever to a soldier in a combat zone. (As the soldier wrote to Eisendrath via e-mail when he heard the grates were coming to Afghanistan: “If I don’t email you within say, 3 weeks, forward this email to my mother…and cousin…and they will let you know what happened.”)
Finally, the grates returned to the FedEx office in D.C., where Eisendrath picked them up and immediately ran them “over to the Post Office the same day. [They] got there about five days later.”
The U.S. Post Office delivers to Afghan war zones?
“That’s the only way you can do it,” Eisendrath says.
The happy soldier used those grates to fire up an Argentine asado meal on New Year’s Day. The soldier’s story, in fact, has started to spread among the military barbecue fans stationed in other war zones. Eisendrath e-mailed me today to say that he’s sending more grates to a unit in Iraq. These newer grates, Eisendrath says, are specifically made for the front lines. They come with small legs. He’s calling the grill the FOB, or Forward Operating Base model.
UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Eisendrath just e-mailed to say that he’s still “playing phone tag with Fedex to get the final answer on my refund for the failed Afghanistan leg. As you can see by the email I forwarded FEDEX says they do ship to ‘some’ APO boxes but not others. They told me that we had incorrectly filled out the shipping info and that is why their system allowed us to ship it in the first place.”