Couple Travels Across U.S. to Show Support for Troops
By Denise Brown
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, D.C., May. 23, 2003 The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted Americans nationwide to convey their patriotism by displaying American flags on their cars and vans. One patriotic Arizona couple went above and beyond the call of duty, and their vehicles now rate more than a mere passing glance.
Instead of a bumper sticker or two, every square inch of Ed and Tonie Negrin's pickup trucks and sport utility vehicle display their pride in America's leaders and men and women in uniform. Obscuring the original paint scheme, the images depict the American flag, the president and troops from each service branch.
Since late 2001, the Negrins, who own and operate a courier business, have taken their vehicles on the road. They dubbed their vehicles "America's Truck Display" and began touring the United States visiting military installations to remind troops how much they're appreciated for their day-to-day contributions to ensure the nation's security.
"We meet people who don't earn a lot at what they do, but what they do is very important," Negrin said of the military. "We want them to know we appreciate it. I wouldn't be able to do any of the things I do, if I didn't live in a society like this, if I didn't have people willing to defend and protect my freedoms."
Driving their red, white and blue, stars and stripes decorated-pickup truck, they embarked on a 38-day, 12,000-mile journey that took them to 39 states. Throughout the trip, the couple gave away patriotic mementos they had purchased with their vacation savings.
"We had been saving for three years to take a first-class vacation to Europe," said Negrin, noting that the couple's 10th wedding anniversary fell shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. "But, we just didn't feel comfortable with it after 9-11, so we took all that money and bought all kinds of flags, patriotic gear, books on American history and books on the U.S. military and such, and just set out across the country. We spent 38 days traveling the U.S. from one end to the other."
On their first trip, while staying at a motel, they met Army Sgt. Maj. Tony Rose, who was attending a military conference there. Rose was stationed in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and was instrumental in saving the lives of coworkers following the terrorist attack.
Negrin realized one of the patriotic books they were giving away contained a reference to Rose for his brave efforts on that day.
"That was our first contact with folks in the military," Negrin explained. Impressed with the service people they met, they decided to focus future travel on visiting military bases to show their appreciation for those in uniform.
They want the troops to realize "'Somebody cares, somebody really looks out for us,'" he said, "and that's truly what we want to convey -- that we love those folks, we love what they do and we want to help them any way we can."
Following their initial trip, the Negrins decided to decorate a second pickup truck saluting U.S. efforts in Operation Enduring Freedom. It was complete with images depicting U.S. military leaders, including the president, defense secretary, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and images of active duty troops. The Enduring Freedom truck is dedicated to people in all branches of the military, Negrin said.
Visiting 15 military installations in May 2002 and five last August, including the Pentagon, the Negrins gave away their patriotic mementos. "At each place we just set up tables like we did at the Pentagon and give away great books and flag," he said. He described the experience as "just a blast - we met wonderful people."
The couple recently added Operation Iraqi Freedom T-shirts to the mementos they give away. Negrin estimates he and his wife spend between $8,000 and $12,000 for each base they visit, budgeting between $130,000 and $140,000 for each overall trip. They set aside 20 percent of their gross business income for the project.
Negrin points out that they do not accept the donations people constantly want to give. "We're just a couple trying to take a portion of our income and use it for something good to support people who really stand up for and support us," he explained.
Last Christmas, the Negrins extended their generosity even further and opened their home to six military personnel for the holidays. He and his wife hosted three soldiers - veterans of duty in Afghanistan -- two Navy recruits and a Marine at their home for dinner and a four-day holiday stay.
"It was great," he said. "It was a blast for us because normally we don't have a lot of folks in our house for Christmas, so it was just tremendous."
Besides opening their home and hearts to service personnel away from their families during the holidays, they've also invited a young military family to visit.
"We just met this wonderful young couple," Negrin said. The husband had been deployed to Afghanistan, returned home and shortly after his return, deployed again to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, back home again, Negrin said, "they have to get to know each other all over again."
This year's trip to military installations began last month and included stops in Florida, Virginia and Maryland. The Negrins plan to visit Fort Bliss, Texas, over the Memorial Day weekend, and wrap up their current tour next week at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The 2003 America's Truck Display features the couple's newest vehicle, an SUV depicting U.S. efforts in Iraqi Freedom.
"We just plastered that truck full of those images," Negrin said. One side of the truck features images of President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks. The SUV's other side features personnel representing every service branch.
Negrin said that many military personnel assigned to several bases they've recently visited were deployed in support of Iraqi Freedom. So instead, the couple had the opportunity to meet family members. He added that they received requests to return to the bases so that returning personnel would be able to see their vehicle.
Last month's stop at U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., represents the Negrin's second visit to the air base. "I've really gotten quite close to the folks at CENTCOM. It was Gen. Franks and his people who really encouraged us," Negrin said.
"We have just been really blessed by the opportunities that have arisen from this and when I say that, I mean just meeting wonderful people we would have never met," he said.
Negrin hopes that in the years ahead, the patriotic gifts they distribute will remind service men and women that "the majority of Americans love what they do, support what they do and appreciate what they do. It's not really the value of the item so much," he said, "as it is a token of how this country feels about them."
Photos of the Negrins visit to U.S. Central Command in April can be viewed on CENTCOM's Iraqi Freedom Truckphoto gallery web site. [Link no longer available] The Negrins' "America's Truck" web site can be viewed at http://www.americastruck.net.