Feeding the troops from afar
BLUE RIVER ” Stacks of Costco-sized portions of beef jerky, trail mix, peanut butter, candy bars and a mix of personal hygiene products overflow from Walt and Sue Mueller’s kitchen table to the nearby chairs in their Blue River home.
Cans of tuna, shrink-wrapped mangos and pineapples, and packages of batteries consume any available desk or countertop space.
The hundreds of dollars worth of everyday items aren’t going into the Mueller’s cupboards. Instead, they’re waiting to be tightly packaged into a small box and sent off to the U.S. Army platoon of Summit County local Chris Andersen in Iraq.
It’s all part of a routine the Muellers have become accustomed to in the past seven months since they began sending care packages to American troops during the holidays.
“It’s fun,” Walt Mueller said. “I really get a lot out of it. I really do. It’s like Christmas every time we do it.”
They first supported a platoon from the 10th Mountain Division based out of Ft. Drum, N.Y., but switched gears after learning Summit County had locals in the Middle East.
Now, they’ve adopted Andersen’s platoon that includes about 30 soldiers who were deployed nearly a year ago from their base in Hawaii.
They send out about a dozen 15-pound boxes each month full of items that are difficult to access overseas ” anything from lip balm to Kool Aid.
“He loves it,” said Schelly Andersen, Chris’ mom. “He says the only thing they can get out there as far as chocolate is Tootsie Rolls because they don’t melt.”
“They just like the reassurance that people are thinking about them,” Sue Mueller added.
After Andersen is scheduled to return from his deployment, another local, Shelby Anderson of Breckenridge, is set to begin his second tour of duty in Iraq and the Muellers plan to take his platoon under their wing.
Since they began sending out the packages, the retired couple has received several dozen letters from soldiers, expressing their gratitude for receiving a little piece of home while they’re thousands of miles away.
Although the written thank-yous are a nice reward, the satisfaction of knowing the difference they’re making is what keeps the Muellers going, they said.
“I can just see those guys opening the boxes,” Walt said. “I can see (Chris Andersen) saying, ‘Hey, we got two or three boxes,’ and handing the stuff out. It’s gotta be great.”
It’s a feeling Walt can relate to, having spent seven months stationed in Vietnam in the 1960s. “When we were overseas, we didn’t get packages from anyone except for our loved ones, so I know what it means,” Walt said.
So far, the Muellers have found the most popular items are Under Armour wicking shirts that help keep soldiers cool in scorching temperatures that can soar to 140 degrees in the middle of the day.
They’ve worked out a deal with the company to get the T-shirts at cost to help offset the $30 price per shirt. They’ve also worked out a deal with Zing, a dried fruit company, to reduce the amount they pay for its products.
Regardless, it still costs the Muellers between $400 and $600 to buy the non-perishable items and pay for postage each month.
The Muellers don’t mind the out-of-pocket expense because, they say, it’s a pittance compared to what the troops are doing for the country, but they’d like to do more. Next, they’re hoping local businesses will sponsor a month’s worth of packages.
In the meantime, they’ve secured the support of the Summit County Rotary Club, which is accepting donations on the Muellers’ behalf and will help with fund-raisers.
“If we could get the funding, I’d support four platoons a month,” said Walt, his dedication crystal clear as he excitedly discusses a new idea ” the possibility of sending vacuum-packed tortillas and hot sauce so the troops can enjoy a taco dinner.
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