Sometimes it's the little things that help the most - an adage that has become the mission of Operation Wounded Warrior. The nonprofit Queen Creek organization is working to provide health, comfort and personal items to wounded military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two of the group's founders, Dick Merschdorf and Bill Tuttle, said the wounded are taken to hospitals here from Iraq and Afghanistan without any of their personal or hygiene items.
"It takes six months to a year for that bag to reach a soldier," said Merschdorf, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War. [CORRECTION: This story originally incorrectly stated that Merschdorf served in Vietnam.]
So a trio of local veterans founded the organization to help fill the temporary need.
"The little things they don't have," said Tuttle, a retired U.S. Marine who also served in Vietnam, "that's what we're doing."
Over the past three years, the group has delivered more than $250,000 worth of items to the wounded. Merschdorf said he hopes to deliver that amount this year.
The items are boxed and transported in donated trucks and are escorted by dozens of motorcycling American Legion Riders.
Organizers anticipate more than 300 riders will participate this year.
The group leaves Arizona Oct. 2 for San Diego, where donations will be delivered to Camp Pendleton Hospital and Balboa Medical Center. The group returns to Arizona Oct. 5 to leave again the next day for Texas to bring donations to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
But the group will be accepting donations until the last minute.
Duane Ellsworth American Legion Post 129 and the local American Legion Riders sponsor the program, which relies heavily on community and business donations.
Merschdorf said they still need donations of money, pajama bottoms, portable DVD players, blankets, CD players, feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes and other personal care items.
He said monetary donations are the most valuable because the group has very little storage and calls the hospitals a month before the trip to determine what additional items are needed.
Tuttle calls the experience of delivering the items "uplifting."
"We all have our own reasons for doing this," said Tuttle, who recalled his negative experience returning from Vietnam. "We don't ever want to see that happen again. They need to know people care."
Merschdorf said he is inspired to continue with Operation Wounded Warrior because he respects the hard work ahead of the injured military men and women.
"The bottom line is we want them to know we care," he said. "They are the reason we're there and we wish a whole lot more people would help."