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By PENNY FLETCHER firstname.lastname@example.org
SOUTH COUNTY — Bob Williams buys a lot of things he doesn’t need or use. In fact, Bob spends most of his time arranging for quantity purchases from large companies, so he can stock thousands of cans of coffee, hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, notebook paper, stationery, and all kinds of snacks and food.
No, Bob isn’t a hoarder. He’s the founder and driving force behind an effort called Support Our Troops, based in Wesley Chapel.
|Receiving the packages from people they don’t even know makes military personnel feel they are appreciated. Bob says citizens are amazed when they learn many on the front lines don’t even have enough coffee and toilet paper. “Everybody thinks the military provides everything they need but those I’ve spoken to at Central Command say they haven’t got the money for supplies that were once considered necessities,” Bob said at a recent speech in South County. |
Bob will accept support from anybody, anywhere he can get it, and often makes presentations to groups around South County showing videos of our military (especially those on the front lines fighting overseas) as they receive and open packages containing items we in the USA take for granted every day.
Small toys and candy are also included to troops in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan so the U.S. troops can give them to children who have lost everything.
Bob works with those in charge of all branches of the military and has tried to get the U.S. Post Office to agree to give him a special rate for sending the boxes.
So far, postal officials have refused and charge him full price.
|Sometimes, the boxes Bob sends contain gifts for local children in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. The military stationed there give the gifts out to children who have lost everything and by doing that, create goodwill. |
Postal officials also refused him when he asked to put up posters about his endeavor in the post offices. He had made 10,000 posters and thought people standing in postal lines might donate if they saw the signs before they reached the counter.
“Each week I send about 250 large boxes to troops- everything from cigars and cookies and toiletries to recreational items. Right now I have about 40,000 pounds of product to send and that’ll cost me about $40,000,” he said at a recent speech to the local chapter of the Gleaners Insurance Society in Apollo Beach. “The number one thing they ask for is coffee. Now you’d think the military would supply enough of that- I mean, if you’ve got men guarding a location, you want to keep them awake. But they don’t have it and are always asking for more.”
“Companies like Starbucks come through for them. They can’t do enough. And others, like Bic, send me thousands of pens so the men and women on foreign soil can write home to their loved ones. The troops also request candy and chips. But the thing that surprises me most is that they don’t get necessities like tooth brushes and soap.”
|Companies like Starbucks and Bic have supplied Bob with thousands of items to send the men and women fighting for their country. Maintaining this warehouse is Bob’s main expense. He says since he lives alone he has cut his personal expenses to the bone and uses whatever money he earns not needed to pay his bills on his project, Support Our Troops. |
Bob says he argues with officials all the time because our elected representatives can find money to bail out billion-dollar companies while our military on the front lines do without basic necessities.
All this would make more sense if Bob was wealthy, but he is not.
|These (and other) soldiers send dozens of thank-you letters to Bob and his volunteers for the time, energy and money spent to help them while they are away from the United States. Many are so far from a base they cannot even get the most basic toiletries, let alone a treat or two. |
“My wife and I don’t require much,” he said modestly. “So I put almost everything I get into this project because I don’t want our boys and girls to feel like they did back in Vietnam.”
Several times during his talk he said “I don’t want it to be another Vietnam where the troops feel unappreciated while they’re overseas and then they don’t get to return recognized as the heroes they are.”
At 63, Bob has spent time in the Navy and also had three businesses. Now retired from those, he works at Support Our Troops from 4:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 4:30 a.m. to noon on weekends.
Many groups help him: retirees, scouts, civic organizations, and groups from various religious affiliations. Last week the Gleaners gave him a check for $1,000. But as long as U.S. troops are on foreign soil, he says his work will continue.
He takes names of individuals overseas, and wants readers of The Observer News and Riverview Current to spread the word. “Everyone knows someone who knows someone in the military,” he said. “Tell them I want to add their loved one to my list. I want them to feel appreciated.”
Having recently traveled several times to visit and talk with men and women in war zones one-on-one, he has many first-hand stories to tell.
One of those that was especially poignant was of Special Forces going into buildings blind, not knowing where the trip wires to bombs are.
“I asked, where are your flashlights?” and one man said, “Sir, we don’t have any more of those.’ And since they aren’t allowed to litter Iraq, someone has to carry around 25 pounds of dead batteries to turn in on base when their flashlights go out. We send them crazy string by the case so they can shoot it into the rooms before going in. It shows them where the trip wires are. Crazy String has been great about supplying it, but again, I have to pay standard rates to send it.”
Another story he related was of going down a street in a small town with a group of Marines and stopping because a small girl was sitting in the middle of the street.
“She was there to make them stop because there were land mines all over the place,” he said. “That’s why we send the toys and candy. Some of these kids are risking their lives for us. They see our troops and yell ‘USA, USA’!”
Bob receives thousands of emails, letters and token gifts to thank him.
“One Special Forces airman sent me an 1859 British rifle, a real antique. Just to say thank you because he said we made a difference in his life.”
When the men and women who have been fighting for days finally reach a base camp, usually their relaxation consists of a few hours of watching movies on DVD.
“No DVD is wasted. I’ll take all you’ve got,” Bob said.
He’s sent flannel pajamas for men in the hospital; more than 11 tons of scrubs for medical personnel to use in field hospitals, and millions of bottles of water.
“Why should our men drink 125-degree water after being in the desert all day?” he asked.
Everyone is welcome to help Support Our Troops whether they believe we should be fighting in the wars or not.
“The troops must be there, and whether we think the war is right or wrong, we must support them.”
The average age of the fighting soldier is between 18 and 25, he said.
Those who want to join with Bob in helping them are asked to call the Support Our Troops office lines: (800) 367-3591 and (813) 991-9400; email Bob at email@example.com; or even track him down on his cell phone; (813) 334-1087.
You may also read more about this at www.ourtroopsonline.com.
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