By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Members of the Warrior Transition Brigade and their families were treated to a Christmas party, courtesy of the Fort Hood USO Friday night.
More than 1,000 kids and adults filled the Harker Heights Event Center, where they danced to songs including the "Cupid Shuffle," decorated ornaments, ate seasonal foods and - of course - met up with Santa Claus.
Saving his two young children a spot in line to visit with Santa, Spc. Joshua Thomas said the party "means a great deal to us. You always see signs that say, 'We support our troops,' but it's not always necessarily 100 percent true. This shows us, 'We care about you and your family, family most of all.'"
Following three deployments to Iraq with 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Smith was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and post traumatic stress disorder. He said doctors believed his cancer may have been caused by environmental factors, including burning trash, in Iraq.
Thomas, 30, joined the Warrior Transition Brigade in April and is currently transitioning out of the Army.
"It's affected us greatly," he said of his illness. "The military says I'm no longer deployable, so it's time to move on."
The brigade's emphasis on family, supported by the USO during events such as Friday's, make moving on easier, he said.
Cradling her newborn daughter, Tatum, 4 weeks, in her arms, Thomas' wife, Kim Thomas, said the Christmas party was an opportunity for the family to make holiday memories.
Due to deployments, "This is just the second Christmas we've been able to spend together in the five years we've been married," said Kim Thomas. "I'm very grateful that we're able to be here, together as a family, and not only our family, but our Army family."
Taking in the party from under her Santa Hat, Fort Hood USO director Robin Crouse said the Christmas party for wounded warriors, now in its third year, was just one of the things the organization does for Fort Hood's Warrior Transition Brigade. Although the nonprofit organization supports all soldiers at its three on-post centers with complimentary lunches daily and other support services and entertainment, the post's wounded warriors deserve specialized attention.
"They've made huge sacrifices for our country," said Crouse. "They need to know they're appreciated by the American public."
Brigade commander Col. John Kolessar said family bonding events such as the Christmas party are so important "because having a family as a support system helps with the healing process."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.
For more information on the Fort Hood USO or to donate, go to http://affiliates.uso.org/forthood/.