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Operation Dear Abby, which has encouraged readers of the newspaper column to send holiday greetings to the military for 17 years, has been halted this year because of the anthrax scare.

The Pentagon this week asked the column's distributor, Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate, to halt the service aimed as boosting morale for troops away from family and friends during the holidays.

In the past, the column asked readers to send letters to a centralized address, and military officials distributed them. The letters weren't addressed to specific people and were distributed randomly.

But recent discoveries of mail tainted with anthrax demonstrate the program's vulnerability, Marine Corps Capt. Craig Erlanger of the Military Postal Service Agency said in a statement.

Universal Press said it had no problem with the military's request.

The government also is suspending its year-round Any Service Member postal campaign. Any mail sent to the programs will be returned.

Erlanger offered alternatives for those interested in supporting service members, such as visiting veterans hospitals and reaching out to families of soldiers.

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