By Rebecca LaFlure
Fort Hood Herald
When single soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team return from Iraq this month, they'll sleep in rooms transformed from stark living quarters into cozy homes.
On a chilly Thursday morning, dozens of volunteers arrived at Fort Hood with truckloads of snacks, toiletries, bedding to make over 320 barracks rooms.
"I hope they'll be surprised," said Gina Bowman, an Army spouse who volunteered to help Thursday.
They fluffed pillows, hung up fresh towels, stocked kitchen cabinets and posted sparkling "Welcome Home" signs in each room.
"We try to set it up like a little hotel, and show that we appreciate the fact that they were gone for a year," said Kelly Lesperance, wife of battalion commander Lt. Col. David Lesperance.
Family Readiness Groups at Army installations around the world make it a tradition to decorate barracks rooms for single soldiers returning home from deployments.
"They really don't have family here. It's good to make them feel special, too, because they are," said Bowman, whose husband is scheduled to return this month from his third deployment.
People and businesses from 17 states donated the bedding, snacks and toiletries so the soldiers' could feel comfortable during their first night back.
"Last time I did this was in Germany," said Tina Fugate, whose husband is also set to return this month from Iraq.
"We're really excited. This is kind of our ceremony for the end of our husband's deployments."
She brought her 14-year-old son along to help decorate. Both of them sat on the floor and dumped handfuls of chocolate hugs into plastic bags. Each bag had a small welcome message inside.
"My daughter came up with the idea, 'Hugs for Heroes,'" Fugate said. "She had to be in school today, but she wanted to do something special for them too."
After Fugate completed the goody bags, she and other volunteers flooded the barracks rooms. One was in charge of the kitchen; the other went straight for the bathroom and lined the counter with new razors, shampoo and shaving cream.
Many of the Army spouses who volunteered Wednesday said they stay involved in Family Readiness Groups while their husbands and wives are overseas. It gives them the opportunity to help other soldiers, they said.
"It's fun, and I enjoy helping. … I try to keep busy," Bowman said.
Fugate began to put fresh sheets and blankets on the barracks bed."Wow. these are so soft. I'm so excited," she said.
When the makeover was complete, Fugate scanned the room before she went on to decorate the next one.
The bed was made, the towels were hung up, and a sign rested on the wall.
"Looks like home," she said.
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.