Summit man creates care packages for troops
Summit County Correspondent
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” “Is the war scary? What are they fighting about? What is Christmas like over there? I don’t think you have snow or get to see your families so that’s why we are doing this for you.”
Eight-year-old Tye Brown-Wolf is just one of the many kids reaching out to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like other local kids, he writes letters to put in packages that Walt Mueller, as part of the Summit County Rotary Club, sends.
Mueller has been sending packages to soldiers connected with Summit County for almost four years. It started when he read a newspaper article about Breckenridge resident Susan Anderson’s project, which involved collecting Under Armor T-shirts and briefs for her son’s platoon during his first deployment (he’s on his third right now). Walt, a Vietnam veteran, got together with his ‘Nam buddies and raised more than $1,000 to assist Anderson. The following Christmas, he and his wife, Sue, decided to start supplying the troops for a full year rather than buy each other gifts. And he hasn’t stopped since.
“Walt is on a mission to let as many soldiers as possible know that people do support them and care about them,” Anderson said. “He wants them to know that they’re heroes.”
Mueller served in Vietnam from 1965-66, and he saw firsthand how civilians disrespected soldiers at that time.
“When we came home, we were treated very poorly,” he said, adding that the troopers never received care packages or letters of support from anyone other than immediate family. “In the early ’70s, I saw people carrying Viet Cong flags and burning American flags, and I said, ‘I’ll never let that happen if we’re involved in another war.'”
So he lets troopers know they’re cared about by sending them care packages every six weeks. Currently, he has nine people on his list ” all family or close friends of Summit County residents.
Shawn Colkett and James McDowell are serving in Afghanistan. Eric Weis, Andrew Parmley, Shelby Anderson, James Shouey, Mitch Mobley, Justin Heck and Erin Nielsen are serving in Iraq.
Care packages include things they can’t get where they’re serving, such as food items; hygiene, personal and medical items; and miscellaneous items such as batteries, super glue, writing paper, pens, playing cards, small flashlights, Nerf balls, cameras, and more.
Mueller sent 121 packages this Christmas, and since June,2004, he has sent 584. The first year, he raised $7,500, last year he raised $5,500 and this year he raised $4,500 to buy supplies for the troops all year long. Though he has raised less money, other donations have replaced some of the cash donations, Mueller said. Last year was the first year he set out drop boxes at Safeway, City Markets and Wal-Mart. The drop boxes allowed him to send an extra 100 packages, he said.
He involved the Breckenridge Elementary School, as well as Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts troop 1075 and Mountain Mentors by having them help write letters and package materials. The Breckenridge Post Office opens early for him to mail the dozens of packages, and the Rotary Club allows donators to write off their goodwill as tax deductions.
Cub scouts like Dusty Giron are learning that they can help by reaching out.
“We can make them feel better,” Giron said, “and let them know that we care about them.”
“It’s such a great opportunity for the kids to appreciate that they have family close by and these guys are away from their families,” said Rose Essary, a Breckenridge parent of fourth-grader and Cub Scout Will Essary. “It’s teaching him that Christmas isn’t just about kids and presents; it’s really about reaching out and thinking about others.”
The troopers write back to Mueller, saying how much they appreciate the letters and goodies, and thanking everyone in Summit County for taking the time to show they care.
“They’re really impressed with the generosity of the county,” Anderson said. “People show they care not just by putting a ribbon on their car, but by taking the time to donate items and to write letters. It’s important, especially around the holidays when it’s hard to be away from family.”