The volunteers were lined up on both sides of two long rows of tables in Abrams Physical Fitness Center steadily filling the care packages and passing them down the line. Most were talking and laughing and some bopped along to the pop music blasting from the speakers by the stage.
More than 300 volunteers, including military spouses, local businesses and area residents, came together Aug. 28 for the USO and Jack Daniel’s “Toast to the Troops.”
This is the second time for the tour to visit Fort Hood — the last visit was five years ago — to make care packages to send to service members deployed overseas and entertain those at home with a free concert with country music star and Army veteran Craig Morgan.
“We are just doing what we can do,” said Pam Friedman as she folded Jack Daniel’s scarves to put into care packages. The Sun City resident came to volunteer, bringing several of her neighbors, after hearing about the event through the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Friedman said she had a son-in-law in the Army and remembers when she and her daughter would send him care packages overseas.
“The most fun thing we ever sent were ... red, white and blue fortune cookies. They had very clever fortunes,” she said. “I got a big picture and all kinds of thank you notes.”
The Jack Daniel’s event is part of a large USO campaign, Operation USO Care Package, just one of about a dozen worldwide programs, said Steven Missimer, vice president of programs for the USO Corporation. The “Toast to the Troops” began in September 2005. It’s had 18 parties and made more than 175,000 care packages over that time period.
“It gives the local families an opportunity to support the USO. It helps them deal with the deployment,” said Missimer.
Steve Ibarra, manager of Operation USO Care Package, said this is the third tour stop of 2012.
“This is a great group (of volunteers),” he said. “They are really motivated. Fort Hood understands the sacrifice the troops make.”
Singer Craig Morgan has been the entertainment for each of these 18 events. His Tuesday night concert drew about 1,200 people.
“Craig has been a great supporter of the USO. He just loves coming out and supporting the troops and entertaining them,” said Missimer, adding it’s important not just to thank the troops overseas, but also the family members. “The public needs to understand that the families need support as well,” said Missimer.
Morgan served in the Army for more than 10 years as a fires support specialist. He decided to leave active duty, going into the Reserves, to give himself two years to try a music career.
“Jack Daniel’s wasn’t doing this when I was in,” he said with a smile. “I do remember getting those care packages. Absolutely, it was nice to get a little piece of home.”
On two occasions, Morgan said he even got to hand-deliver packages overseas before concerts, which he said are the same as his regular concerts.
“I try not to do patriotic things, because I’ve been a patriot. I’ve done my service,” said Morgan. “I am honored to be here. I truly believe the greatest people of this country are those that serve it.”