SUMMIT, NJ – “They think about us every day. When do we think about them?”
Christine Truhe, the mother of an Army veteran, wants to make sure that those serving in the military know people are thinking about them.
That’s why she founded Bonds of Courage, a community-based advocacy organization that assists troops and their families.
When it started, the organization focused on sending packages to active-duty troops. Truhe launched her effort, originally called Summit Supports Our Troops, on Memorial Day 2004.
The name change, in November 2010, reflects the enlarged mission of Bonds of Courage.
“The big change and why we need to really enlist the support from our community in terms of volunteering and donating money, is that we are making this major transition from being a provisioning organization … to a service organization, which requires professional staff that’s going to be there for the long haul,” Truhe explained.
The philosophy behind the Bonds of Courage is “from oath to home.” Truhe said they not only work to boost morale of troops with regular care packages, but offer support for families and for veterans. Bonds of Courage has identified four areas in which veterans often need assistance in transitioning from military to civilian life: employment, health, family life and finances.
“We’re doing a number of things to raise funds, and one of these is the gala on Nov. 11,” Truhe said. The event will be held at the Grand Summit hotel, and they hope to draw 250 people. The program will include the USO, speakers, a live auction and a silent auction.
“This is going to be particularly special – there’s really no other occasion in this area where you get a real community of people coming together in one place, proud of our nation with hearts full of gratitude for our troops,” she said.
Helping with the event planning is volunteer Holly Strelzik, whose brother is an Army ranger. She is among the 40 volunteers who provide their expertise for the cause.
Strezlik said she is happy to have found Bonds of Courage. Her brother, Phillip Simpal, has been in the Army 19 years and has been deployed in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He came back from Somalia with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“It was very scary,” she said, adding that to see him struggling was “devastating.” Compounding the problem was the nature of his assignments. “Of course he can’t talk about any of his missions,” she said.
Truhe knows how she feels. Her work grew out of her fears for her son Michael when he was deployed to Iraq after enlisting in October 2003. She wanted to do something to help him, so she started with a drive to collect 500 boxes to send with soldiers being sent overseas from Fort Benning in Georgia, where he was stationed.
Although her son was honorably discharged in 2007, Truhe said, her mission was bigger than her son. “I don’t want to take care of just my kid,” she said. “It’s about all our kids.”
Since Bonds of Courage started, they’ve sent more than 23,000 packages to troops overseas. The list of the Summit area’s active-duty personnel and veterans who have received support for themselves and their families tops 150.
“They’re just so impressive,” Truhe said of the troops. “It’s an honor to be around them … (knowing) what they’re willing to risk."
Truhe may have known back in high school that Bonds of Courage would be her calling. In thumbing through her yearbook recently, she said, she read this beneath her photo: “To appreciate and make myself worthy of life in America.”