Lutz Patriots celebrate anniversary
By Kyle LoJacono
For the last seven years the Lutz Patriots have been waving flags Friday nights in front of the Old Lutz Schoolhouse to raise awareness and donations for U.S. troops.
The group was started by sisters Barbara Mueller and Karen Williams at the end of March 2003 after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We just wanted to show the troops that people cared about what they were doing,” Mueller said. “We started just waving flags and later we began sending packages to the troops.”
Mueller and Williams led the group for the first six years. Mueller’s son, Matt, served five years in the Marine Corps, reaching the rank of first lieutenant.
“Barbara and Karen got the ball rolling for us,” said Bruce Hockensmith, patriot member. “They were the ones that started it, but it’s not about any of us. It’s about the troops serving our country.”
Hockensmith, like many of the group’s male members, is a military veteran. He was an Army sergeant and served in Germany from 1965 to 1968.
“I’ve been to most of the major events the patriots have done since it started seven years ago,” Hockensmith said. “When you see the outpouring of support from the public it is tremendous. A lot of people want to help, but don’t know how, so we give them a way to give back.”
In addition to weekly flag wavings from 4 to 6 p.m. each Friday, the patriots put together care packages for the troops several times a year. The items and postage money comes from the group and community donations.
“We’ll have our next packing party to pack up the supplies for the troops the third Saturday in April,” said Judy McCray, who has been a member with her husband for more than two years. “We’d love to send as many gift packages as we can to the troops and we’re asking the community to help us with donations if they can.
“The Lutz and Land O’ Lakes community has never let us down before,” McCray continued. “We are so fortunate to have a community that steps up and supports our soldiers over and over again.”
Those interested can donate money or supplies at the weekly flag wavings or e-mail Hockensmith at . The patriots are most interested in supporting local soldiers and anyone with family serving are encouraged to let the group know where they are stationed.
The patriots use the Support Our Troops Inc. warehouse in Wesley Chapel to pack the supplies. Bob Williams is the founder of the Wesley Chapel organization.
“Bob Williams is nice enough to let us use his facilities on Saturday mornings,” McCray said.
The organization regularly receives e-mails and letters from the troops thanking them for the packages, and sometimes more than that. The troops themselves have even visited to show their appreciation.
“One Army staff sergeant was from Mississippi and traveled here with his wife to meet us,” Hockensmith said. “Several local businesses provided lodging and meals for them during their stay.”
Some of those businesses were Villaggio Ristorante in Lutz and the Quality Inn on E. Bearss Avenue.
The patriots have started participating in more somber events involving fallen soldiers.
“We’ve been taking part in soldiers’ funerals the last few months,” McCray said. “The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office lets us know about the escorts and we set up with our flags when the procession goes by. It means a lot to the families and it’s very emotional.”
The number of people that participate in the flag wavings each week varies, but Hockensmith said there are 10 to 15 people who do it regularly from Lutz, Land O’ Lakes and north Hillsborough. He also said there are more members who participate less regularly.
“We don’t have a roster and anyone can come out and wave flags with us,” Hockensmith said. “We’re going to stay out there waving our flags to support our soldiers as long as we can and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
For more information on the Lutz Patriots, visit www.lutzpatriots.com.
Needed care package items
- Food: ground coffee, beef jerky, crackers, hard candy, gum, granola and protein bars, nuts, chips, Crystal Light packets, Slim Jim’s, Oreo cookies, fruit snacks, nondairy coffee creamer, microwave popcorn
- Hygiene: deodorant, lip balm, razors, eye drops, body and foot powder, hand wipes, hand warmer, white athletic socks, wash cloths, dental care products, body lotion, sun block, shampoo and conditioner, nail files, Q-tips, cotton balls, combs and brushes, bug spray
- Other: board games, batteries, stationeries, DVDs, CDs, CD players, fly swatters, puzzle books, crocs and flip flops, letters and cards from local people, bandanas, paper and pens, sewing kits, comic and joke books, magazines, small flashlights, disposable cameras and frisbees
- Checks: made out to the postmaster and mailed to P.O. Box 1115 Lutz, FL 33548.