As Afghan war continues, so does local supply drive

ARMS asks community to provide needed items for American troops

Staff Writer

United States Marine Corps Capt. (retired) Ken Springer has only been volunteering with the nonprofit American Recreational Military Services (ARMS) for one year, but he knows all too well how important the organization is to the morale of the country’s military service members.

Springer, a Freehold resident, served during the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1968.

During that time, he said, servicemen were not as fortunate to receive the kind of appreciation that ARMS tries to show this generation’s service members.

“I know the sacrifices and the hardship these young kids are undergoing today, and I appreciate what they are doing, and I think I owe them a debt of gratitude for being on the front lines today as I was years back,” Springer said.

Founded in 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Red Bank-based ARMS is a registered charity that supports military service members and their families from throughout the tri-state area.

Care packages are shipped to troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and financial assistance is provided to service members’ families at home, when needed, founder and executive director Ronnie Micciulla explained.

Each week, the organization mails hundreds of care packages to Afghanistan from its storage facility at the Toms River Armory, Springer explained. The care packages include food and personal items.

To date, the ARMS has shipped more than 950,000 pounds of items to troops serving the nation.

The group sustains its efforts through donations from community members across the region; however, as of late it has seen a significant decrease in the amount of contributions it receives.

“The bins are empty,” Springer said, explaining that ARMS is in need of donations in order to continue its work.

Springer said one reason for the drop-off in donations could be associated with the struggling economy, but he suggested that it could also be the result of a collective sense of complacency that has settled over the nation as the war in Afghanistan has passed its nine-year anniversary.

“It might be our own fault, too,” he said. “After a while, I think people have grown accustomed to the war and our troops being overseas. After a while, I think Americans kind of go into complacency.

“We have seen that after 9/11. Everybody had flags out, they marched and they prayed and they had memorials,” Springer said. “Here it is, so many years later, and it’s kind of gone on the back burner. It’s not on the forefront anymore. I don’t see as many flags, I don’t see as many people memorializing the 9/11 victims.”

Springer initially became involved with ARMS after seeing its volunteers participate in a deployment ceremony for local Marines who were shipping out to Iraq.

Springer was on hand as a member of the Marine Corps League and said he noticed ARMS volunteers handing out drinks and food to the service members and their families.

“I thought it was a nice thing for them to be doing because it was out of the kindness of their own heart,” he said. “And I got to talking to those folks and I said, ‘What’s this all about? Its really nice that you are doing these things for the troops.’And they told me about their organization, and they were saying they are always looking for volunteers.”

Springer took the volunteers at the deployment event up on their offer and now travels to the Toms River Armory to help them package donations.

“I worked with them for the day and I got hooked, and I’ve been with them since that time,” he said. “Every Tuesday we go down to the armory in Toms River, which is where we store all of the food and supplies, and we accept the donations there. And every Tuesday we ship out approximately 150 boxes to troops in Afghanistan now.”

In each package he sends out, Springer said he includes a letter addressed to “American Patriot.”

“So whoever opens that box gets a letter from me expressing my gratitude for the jobs they are doing and for their hardships and the sacrifices. I always put my email address and my address at home here,” he explained.

Springer said he frequently receives letters in return from service members thanking ARMS for its support.

“These kids are 19 and 20 years old. Some of them have never been away from home,” he said. “I always like to tell people it’s great to send them food and hygiene products, but I think the kids appreciate getting a letter, too, telling them how much we support them.”

Among the items most needed by ARMS are over-the-counter medical supplies, socks, hats, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, sun block, instant drinks, non-perishable microwavable food, snack food and batteries, Springer said.

“Some of the troops have told me they want us to send toys,” he said. “They give a toy to the youngsters they meet over there and they make friends.

“Another thing I was very surprised at was that one of the troops asked me to send Silly String, and I said, ‘Well, Silly String must be for the kids,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s not.’ Silly String is for when they go into houses and they spray the Silly String, which will catch on a trip wire [explosive].”

According to Micciulla, the war in Afghanistan has seen some changes in the types of items troops have requested.

“The war in Afghanistan is much different than the war in Iraq. In Iraq, most of our guys were in base camps. These guys and girls are not. They are all over — they are in the mountains, they are sleeping on cots. They are asking for warm blankets, they are asking for pillow cases.

“We just ask people, you don’t have to support the war, but we need to support the warrior,” Micciulla said. “They are out there protecting us every day, and we have to make sure they have the basics.”

For more information about ARMS and a full list of drop-off points and the mostneeded items, visit the organization’s Internet website at