A Duluth auto dealership has offered to repair the cars of deployed soldiers from two Duluth-based National Guard units. Almost immediately after it was announced, what seemed like a simple act of reaching out to military families became a symbol of the national division over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shon Kingrey, who served two tours as a Marine during Operation Desert Storm and whose son is now in Afghanistan in the Army, did not envision the kind of red tape he would have to go through to get his idea started. He never thought he'd be called a warmonger for doing it, either. But both were the case.

As a new general manager of Duluth Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Ram, Kingrey thought of a way of giving back to airmen of the 148th Fighter Wing and soldiers of the 1/94th Cavalry, especially with one of his employees deploying in April. It wasn't a big promotion with giant monkey balloons on the roof. During their deployment the dealership would fix the family vehicles of soldiers and airmen for free, regardless of make or model.

"Pretty simple. Black and white," he said.

Then things got complicated

There were concerns that someone might want to take advantage of the offer. Kingrey and local civilian liaisons with the two groups came up with a plan: Families would work through the units, show deployment orders, and Kingrey would take the cars in on a case-by-case basis. He has no idea how much any of this will cost. But he believes it's worthwhile and hopes other businesses will think the same way. He ran a full color ad in the Duluth News Tribune announcing his plan. The response was surprising.

"I got called baby killer. I got called a warmonger. That's the last thing this is about," Kingrey said. Even the sincerity of his effort has been questioned. "What do I stand to gain? It's not like this is a money-maker," he said.

The dealership has had two cars brought in so far.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434