Cover Story

The idea behind "Summit Supports Our Troops" is simple, says Christine Truhe, PsyD, a psychologist practicing in Summit, N.J.: People in every American town should know who from their community is serving in the military and acknowledge that service through appreciation letters, care packages, support meetings for family members and other activities.

"I desperately want our citizens not to forget the fact that there are people out there giving up quite a bit to do a job they believe in," she says.

Truhe got the idea for the local effort after her son, Army Spc. Michael Aros-Truhe, 26, deployed to Iraq in January 2004. Aros-Truhe returned to Iraq for a second, 15-month deployment in March with the 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion.

During that first deployment, Truhe wanted to keep her son's morale-and that of his fellow soldiers-strong. She wondered who else from her town was serving abroad, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. By working with the mayor and other civic leaders, Truhe compiled a list of service members with ties to Summit, a town of about 20,000 people, 40 miles west of New York City.

Instead of sending care packages to just the service members from Summit, Truhe and her fellow volunteers contact their unit, find out what the service members want, and then send care packages to the entire unit.

Among the most popular requests are a "clean pack," which includes mouthwash and toothpaste, and a "snack pack," which includes beef jerky, protein bars and hard candy that won't melt. Volunteers also send "movie packs"-popcorn boxes containing DVDs, powdered drinks and candy.

Summit service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan receive at least two large care packages, assembled with donated supplies, over a deployment. Besides the care packages, the group donates airline miles to give service members free airline tickets to visit family when they come home.

So far, they have contacted 45 service members with ties to Summit and sent packages to more than 2,000 service members. Truhe estimates the group has spent more than $35,000 on family support activities, care packages and education and outreach, and shipped more than $80,000 worth of in-kind donations.

For family back home, the group hosts a quarterly support-group, a monthly gathering for spouses and an annual breakfast, during which new members receive an American flag that is flown over Summit's City Hall.

Long term, Truhe believes Summit's effort-and that of many other U.S. communities-will have to include making services available to veterans as they transition back to civilian life, some struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disabilities.

"They're going to need a lot from us, and we need to be prepared to give it to them," she says.

Truhe can be contacted at email.