The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

January 23, 2013

'Tide for Troops' sharing smiles with those who serve



When Justin Crisler designed a T-shirt for his favorite team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, he had no way of knowing the difference it would make.

He had posted a photo of his T-shirt on Facebook bearing six simple words, “Can I get a Roll Tide?”

Within a few minutes, he had a message from a contractor working at a post office in Afghanistan. The contractor, a former member of the military, by the name of Austin Strickland asked if he could —  maybe — purchase a few shirts for himself and some of the “‘Bama” fans serving in the 167th Infantry Battalion F CO out of Oxford.

Crisler was hit with an idea. “No way in the world was I going to let these guys pay for a shirt while they are serving our country,” Crisler said. “So, Austin and I started coming up with a plan to get the shirts to them as a donation.”

At that point, the project began — Tide for Troops was born.

Since that time, more than 500 shirts for troops and several retired military personnel have been shipped by Crisler. “I am now trying to fill orders of 300-plus requests, but funds are crucial to make this happen,” Crisler said.

In fact when the project first began, Crisler invested more than $1,000 of his own money in the project to get things rolling. “I did this because I knew that once people in the community saw the looks on the troops’ faces after getting a shirt, they would kick in and help,” he said.

Crisler is quick to point out that the effort is not all him at all. “The community has donated everything from $5 to $250 during the past few weeks,” he said. “One particular donation was received a couple of nights ago. I was sitting here a little down and out, not knowing how I was going to afford a big order to a battalion in Afghanistan. Then, a sweet lady sent me a message and requested four shirts — one for her husband who is returning from a deployment soon, and three more for his troops who serve with him.

“I told her I would get the order right out and thanked them for all they do.”

Crisler said it wasn’t long before he received a $500 donation from the very same woman. “I was floored,” he said. “She informed me that this was the least she could do to help. The generosity of people like this is what makes this effort continue.” 

Crisler will never forget the feeling he had walking back to his car after shipping out the first 50 shirts. “I had a feeling of joy, success and just pure raw emotion all wrapped up into one big feeling,” he said. “The emails and Facebook messages from the soldiers who receive these shirts are something I cherish more than anything in the world.”

He recently received a letter from a solider serving in Kuwait. “It caused me to sit back and take it all in,” Crisler said. “Tears? You betcha’! But most importantly knowing that these troops get a smile, laugh or a moment of fun out of all this just makes it all worthwhile to me.”

Crisler said that when a soldier thanks him for receiving a shirt, he immediately replies, “No, thank you for all you do for me.”

“So many people sometimes take for granted what freedoms we enjoy each and every day and the fact, that we have troops still in the field away from their families who are risking their lives for us. I want the troops to know that we have not forgotten them and that by offering them a small gift in the form of a shirt, we appreciate everything they are doing now and forever.”

Crisler said in the future he might expand. “It is definitely something that is being considered at the moment,” he said, adding so many people from other schools such as Auburn, Tennessee and LSU have already asked if he could send their teams shirts out. “When I think about that, I know it would be a major undertaking since I am so busy just sending out shirts to ‘Bama fans alone,” he said. “My hope is that these other schools read up on what I am doing and maybe they can organize their own efforts to do this type of project as well.”

So far, Crisler’s Facebook page “Tide for Troops” has almost 3,500 friends and it’s growing.

“I am extremely grateful for the followers so far on the page,” Crisler said. “People are good no matter what anyone says. People want to help and have done just that over the past few weeks.” He said marketing the concept has been tough at times, but he is not going to stop until every request is filled.

To donate to Tide for Troops, email tidefortroops@gmail.com or visit www.tidefortroops.com. Donations are accepted through PayPal.

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