Operation Support Our Troops America helps veterans meet basic needs

Operation Support Our Troops America Board Member Eugenia Callison (left) and Executive Director Linda Tuisl at the Field of Honor at Denning Park in La Grange in September.

In 2003, Deb Rickert realized that some troops were unable to get necessary items such as toothbrushes and simple protein sources because of shortages at stores on military bases.

She started a collection drive for Valentine’s Day on her front porch, which eventually made its way to her dining room table, moved to her living room and ended up in her garage, continuing to grow even after the collection project ended.

A Vietnam veteran donated warehouse space to help with the rapid growth of the organization, Operation Support Our Troops America Inc. Since then, OSOT-America has sent more than 2.3 million pounds of care packages to deployed soldiers and offers programs to veterans.

Operation Support Our Troops America Executive Director Linda Tuisl helps pack care packages at their Lisle warehouse.

OSOT-America is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that aims to help those in the military, as well as their families, by providing support, comfort, resources and education both while deployed and after they have returned, organizers said.

Programs that OSOT-America offers to the military community include its Comfort and Care Package Program, Leap of Faith seminar, Veterans Assistance Program and G.I. Yoga.

The Leap of Faith seminar is a three-day program for families of fallen service members. The seminar consists of presentations, experiences with one’s Leap team, peer support and individual coaching sessions as needed.

Ralph and Linda Grieco are OSOT-America volunteers and have been members since 2007.

Ralph Grieco enrolled in ROTC at the University of Toledo in 1966 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in June 1970. He served 26 years and retired in 1996.

The Griecos also are Gold Star parents. They lost their son in October 2008 while he was serving in Afghanistan.

“As a result of that, that has just been … we felt that we need to continue to give back to those who serve and ultimately put their life on the line,” Ralph Grieco said.

There are optional events in which participants can take part during the Leap of Faith seminar, including a tandem skydive with either the U.S. Army Golden Knights or the All Veteran Parachute Team, as well as equine or dolphin therapy, according to the organization’s website.

“[Leap of Faith] brings the families – whether it be parents, spouses or adult children – together in a kind of a counseling, more of a grief seminar mode, [allowing them to] talk about their grief in a group without any judgments,” Ralph Grieco said. “The key after that is that it gives them confidence in themselves that they can conquer a lot of different things when they jump out of an airplane strapped to the back of a Golden Knight or a Veteran Parachute Team member and skydive out of an airplane at 14,000 feet. Both Linda and I did that ourselves back in 2012.”

Excluding travel costs, the organization covers Leap of Faith seminar expenses for the participant and their support person. To participate in a seminar, interested individuals must register and complete an interview with a team member. For information about the program, call OSOT-America at 630-971-1150 or visit GoldStar@osotAmerica.org.

OSOT-America’s G.I. Yoga program provides stress relief tools to help manage post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury symptoms to veterans and their family members. The classes are taught by certified yoga instructors and are free for veterans and their family members. For upcoming yoga sessions, visit www.osotamerica.org.

The Veterans Assistance Program allows veterans experiencing hardship to request financial assistance in the form of a one-time grant.

“We found that sometimes veterans might find themselves getting behind, whether it might be in rent or they need a car repair and that can be expensive. They can’t get caught up,” said Linda Tuisl, executive director of OSOT-America. “And then we also have to have a sustainability plan. So if we help them out with their rent payment, how are they going to continue to move forward and not get into debt again? Or something like, you know, get into a bad situation.”

The organization’s Comfort and Care Package Program helps ship and donate care packages to troops deployed overseas.

“We have troops everywhere and we just need to still, you know, care for them. It’s amazing what a care package and letters from kids – because we always put letters from kids and adults in their care package – what that means to the soldiers who are deployed so far away from their families,” Linda Grieco said. “They write back and they’re just so grateful that there’s Americans that are thinking about them and caring about them.”

Those interested in signing up a deployed service member for a care package can fill out the form online.

“We should support [those deployed],” said Carl Volland, an OSOT-America volunteer. “They’re supporting us.”

Another event OSOT-America hosts is the Field of Honor, which took place for the second time in September, with the first being in 2021. More than 500 U.S. flags were on display at Denning Park in La Grange to honor individuals serving in the U.S. military, veterans, front-line workers and first responders.

For those interested in becoming involved with OSOT-America, there are opportunities to set up collection drives, donate and volunteer.

“We are always looking for donations of product,” Tuisl said. “Our shelves are a little bare at this time. [We’re] looking for products that anyone can find on our website to fill our holiday stockings and to fill our comfort and care package program. Those are always welcome, as well as financial donations for those products.”