Ronnie Micciulla (left) A.R.M.S. (American Recreational Military Services) founder serves a Soldier who two hours prior had just returned to the United States from Iraq. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen, NJDMAVA/PA.
This was not the first time these volunteers were spending a late night in a gym full of strangers, it was just one of hundreds of events that A.R.M.S. has been involved with to support the Soldiers and Airmen of New Jersey National Guard.
The relationship started with the experiences of a retired teacher's aide from Red Bank, Ronnie Micciulla, who went to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island to volunteer at a rest shelter for rescue workers and service members deployed to the site right after the attacks of Sept. 11. "It was the most awesome thing I've ever done in my life," said Micciulla, who serves as executive director of the group.
That experience led her to seek other ways to serve her community and America's fighting men and women, and in March of 2003 American Recreational Military Services was founded.
Originally a small grass-roots organization, A.R.M.S. has grown into a vibrant organization with more than 325 volunteers throughout the tri-state area that strives to serve any deployed service member and their family.
While A.R.M.S. may be most visible at the Welcome Home ceremonies throughout the state, the organization has packed more than 76,000 pounds of toiletries and paid for the postage to get those 'care' packages to service members overseas. During the holidays, A.R.M.S. collected or bought more than 16,000 presents for the children of mobilized service members and sponsored holiday's parties to distribute those gifts.
Add 6,300 pre-paid phone cards distributed and more than $36,500 in direct financial aid to families and the efforts of A.R.M.S. have gone a long way to make serving the nation in the Global War on Terrorism easier.
"Just a great organization that the families really appreciate," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph Cwieka, Chief of Family Programs. "I don't know what we would have done without their help."
Smiles and a simple thank you are the fuel that keeps the volunteers of A.R.M.S. running.
"The most wonderful people I've met are through the military," added Micciulla.
A.R.M.S. is a recognized 501(C)(3) charitable organization and supports itself entirely from foundation grants, fund-raisers and individual donations. The organization currently calls the Toms River Armory home and you can find a current schedule of events at www.supportarms.org.