SaddleBrooke group selflessly supports troops, vets

2014-06-26T00:00:00Z SaddleBrooke group selflessly supports troops, vetsBy Phil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Other than the facts that they live in SaddleBrooke and are passionate about supporting veterans and their families, members of SaddleBrooke Troop Support have something else in common: They refuse to take personal credit for their efforts.

Although proud to list the collective accomplishments of the group — including providing food and money to deployed troops’ families and helping jobless veterans adjust to civilian life — each member concluded interviews with a reporter with pleas to credit others.

Mitch Steinberg, who founded the group with several others in 2005, said the organization is made up of selfless people dedicated to their shared cause. Starting with 12 members, it has since expanded to about 100.

“I think we’ve done some good stuff,” said Steinberg, a 76-year-old Vietnam vet who served in the Marines from 1959 to 1979. “We have stimulated and motivated the awareness in our community of the need to support our troops.”

Through donation drives, outreach and partnership with other organizations, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans of Foreign Wars, the group touches the lives of as many military members as it can find.

Last year, the group donated $35,000 in food and materials to military members and their families. It also supplies new mothers with gift baskets and maintains the Military Lounge at the Tucson International Airport.

George Bidwell, who took over as chairman in January after Steinberg stepped down from the role, said he and his colleagues are looking for any way possible to lighten the burdens military families carry.

“It’s a great fulfillment, being able to help,” said Bidwell, 81, who served in the Army from 1950 to 1953. “Now with troops coming back, families are in a greater need. We’ve had families who have had their utilities turned off, and this group paid their bills for a couple months.”

Joe Rink, 78, who served in the Army from 1957 to 1964, helps plan group events. He said he feels an obligation to help those who defend his freedoms.

“One of the greatest things that we can do in public service as a civilian is to support these men and women who have given so much of their lives and time for us to be free,” he said. “That is almost a required duty, on every one of our parts, to get involved with service organizations that are helping troops who are coming home.”

Military liaison Moose Creighton, 80, said the group fills an important need, and makes up for an indifferent society.

“To me, this is vital. These guys have laid it on the line for us,” said Creighton, who was a Marine from 1950 to 1956, and served in Korea. “I fought my war, and have kind of been around the mill for a while. I thought something should be done. These people answered the call, and when they come back and can’t find work or have PTSD, they’re ignored, particularly in the job market. It chaps my behind.”

Creighton hits up discount stores to buy food and household products to give away. He said some stores, such as Big Lots, recognize what he does and give him special deals.

Carmen Whirley, 54, works as a liaison with the Ladies Auxiliary VFW. She identifies with troops’ families because her husband, Kenneth, served in Afghanistan and Kuwait on various deployments from 2004 to 2009.

“Being that my family went through deployment with my husband, I know firsthand how it feels, and how devastating it can be when your paperwork gets lost in the shuffle and you can’t get bills paid on time,” she said.

“I’ve dedicated myself to making sure that doesn’t happen to others and making sure the resources are there. We help out without any questions. We shoot them emails to see if there’s anything they need. If they’ve got no food or need help with the kids, we do what we can, scraping and getting a fundraiser going. We make sure soldiers are taken care of.”

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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