By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Sgt. Steven Watson, 30, Charlie Company, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, appeared confused last week when Operation Jolly Holly volunteers began loading the toys and food he'd received during the Operation Homefront of Texas event into a black 2005 Volvo SUV.
That wasn't the lemon he'd driven to Shilo Inn Dec. 15.
Only after several volunteers insisted that the car was now his did he believe it, he said.
His wife, Diane Watson, 32, was shocked, she said, wiping away tears. "I had no idea that was going to happen."
Like its fellow chapters around the country, Operation Homefront of Texas, based in San Antonio, offers emergency financial assistance to junior enlisted soldiers and their families. During its fourth annual Operation Jolly Holly event in Killeen, the organization gave away 16,000 toys and 450 food baskets to other Fort Hood families.
Shopping for toys for her two-year old son, Spc. Sandra Rynes, 297th Inland Cargo Transfer Company, 13th Sustainment Command, grew emotional while talking about the support she feels from the community this time of year.
"It's actually mind-blowing," she said. "I've never seen anything like this actually. It's amazing, so many people (donating) their time. There's no words to describe it."
Jolly Holly staff try to prioritize wounded warriors and families with deployed loved ones, Operation Homefront of Texas President Jennifer Cernoch said, but also operate on a "first-come, first served" basis.
As many as 1,000 Fort Hood families could have qualified this year, she said. Other families are on the waiting list for vehicles.
Watson received the day's biggest gift due to the special needs of two of his three small children and their inability to fit into the family's only car, which Mrs. Watson called unreliable at best.
"'Please start, please start,'" she said, imitating her constant conversations with the vehicle.
Watson, who has been deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan and reenlisted last year after a difficult 18 month period as a civilian, said getting the new car was a great way to kick off the holidays and set a positive tone for the next year.
"We can go out as a family now," he said, explaining that he and his wife used to have to take turns shuttling their children to therapy sessions for their autism or to doctors' appointments.
The event was a way to honor the sacrifices of military families, ahead of the holidays, Cernoch said. "We can do thing because of the generosity of so many individuals and businesses around the Fort Hood area."
Operation Homefront partnered with Dollar Tree stores throughout Texas to collect donations of toys. Beam Global Spirits & Wine donated hundreds of food baskets to military families through it Holidays Meals for Military Families program, and American Shipping & Logistics Group donated the car. Tens of other local businesses, including Killeen Walmart, also pitched in.
For more information on Operation Homefront of Texas, which ran Operation Jolly Holly in three additional locations this year, go to operationhomefront.net.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.