by Karin Craig
For the Union
Registration is now open for the Support The Troops Golf Tournament, which will take place Saturday, June 22 at the Ponds Golf Course in St. Francis, with a shotgun start at 11 a.m. A French dip dinner with potato salad, coleslaw, and chips will follow golf at 6 p.m. at the St. Francis American Legion.
The $95 registration fee includes golf with a cart, dinner and a gift bag. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and last place as well as for hole-in-one and other contests. Participants can also take part in a raffle and silent auction.
In addition to risking their lives and safety and spending months or years away from loved ones, troops and their families encounter many additional challenges that aren’t as obvious to the rest of us. And many of those less obvious challenges don’t qualify for help from the Red Cross or Army Emergency Relief (AER).
Support The Troops assists deployed soldiers’ families in such times of hardship. Many situations are eligible for financial help through the fund. It can help replace a broken-down appliance, repair a vehicle, or help with medical or transportation costs.
For example, a service member from Elk River was assigned to Ft. Jackson, S.C.,, and relocated there with his family. He was subsequently deployed to Iraq, leaving his pregnant wife and two-year-old alone where they knew nobody in the area.
Desperately wanting to return to Minnesota where she could get help from family with her toddler and newborn, his wife used money that she would ordinarily have used to make a couple of car payments to instead fund a return trip to Minnesota. Her unpaid car payments prompted repossession proceedings to begin. Desperate for help, she turned to Support the Troops, which wrote a check for $610 to cover the missed payments and allow her keep her car.
Support The Troops also provides a grant to the Armed Forces Service Center at Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport, which helps pay for a place for military members and their families to sleep during long layovers from flights in and out of the Twin Cities.
In addition, the fund provides a grant to Anoka County Voiture #390 of the 40/8 to purchase health and comfort items for VA hospitalized veterans, such as shampoos, combs, razors and toothbrushes.
Support The Troops also helps fund Hero Miles, a program that operates through the Fisher House and the Department of Defense for wounded military members and their families to pay travel costs when they must seek care at a medical facility that is not near their home.
This year Support The Troops also launched a scholarship fund with St. Francis High School. The fund’s six-member committee voted 5-1 to name the scholarship fund for the organization’s co-founder and president, Thomas (aka ‘Smitty’) Smith; Smith voted against naming it after himself because, in his words, “I don’t like all that attention.”
The scholarships are awarded to students who have excelled in academics or athletics and also have a military affiliation. The committee awarded its first six scholarships last month.
Smith, an Army veteran and retiree who lives in St. Francis, and his friend Brett Baudette, who currently serves in the National Guard, founded Support The Troops in 2006 after talking one day about how they could help troops and their families with the many expenses that fall through the cracks.
The idea for a fundraising golf tournament was born, in part because Smith already had some experience organizing golf events while working for the U.S. Post Office after his military retirement. This year’s Support The Troops tournament is the seventh annual such event. Typically between 140 and 160 players take part, and last year’s event raised $12,700 for Support The Troops.
Many individuals, businesses and organizations contribute money, raffle and silent auction items, and other prizes to make the annual tournament a success.
Support The Troops’ Executive Adviser Rick Hedberg, who has been working for many months to acquire prize donations for the fundraiser, listed just a few of the biggest silent auction items: an all-expense paid trip to Riverside Casino in Laughlin, Nev.; a three-four night stay at Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior; a $200 gift basket with a Kindle; a baseball autographed by Joe Mauer; and much more. Raffle tickets will be available for $1 each and those prizes will range in value from $15 to $60 in gift cards and other items.
To donate a silent auction or raffle item for the tournament should send it to Hedberg’s attention at 6950 Hillendale Rd. NW, Elk River, MN 55330. Hedberg can also be reached by phone at 763-441-4876.
Smith, who retired from the Army 24 years ago, was himself once in a position where he couldn’t get help from AER or the Red Cross. The house that he was living in with his wife and four sons in 1979 started on fire due to an electrical issue inside a wall. Smith sought help but it seemed nobody could offer assistance.
With nowhere to go, the family set up a tent and camped for two days. Then an officer from another unit discovered the situation and made an appointment to see the post commander that afternoon. Shortly thereafter, the family was moved to new quarters.
Another reason that the needs of military veterans are close to Smith’s heart is that he watched his own father, a World War II vet, suffered from “shell shock,” better known today as post traumatic stress disorder. His dad suffered physical and emotional trauma for many years and died in 1992.
Support The Troops wants to help those in need as much as it possibly can. For that reason, the six Support The Troops committee members receive no money for their work; it’s all strictly voluntary. They want every dollar raised to go toward helping the troops.
To take part in this year’s Support The Troops golf tournament, register by June 16 at the Ponds Golf Course at 2881 229th Ave. NW, St. Francis.