By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Outside Abrams gym it was 90 degrees, but inside the air conditioner was going strong as carols wafted through the air and Santa posed for photos with lucky boys and girls.
The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, with the help of BAE Systems and the Killeen Walmart, gave 600 bicycles to its troopers' children Saturday at Fort Hood.
The regiment will deploy to Iraq later this summer and miss yet another holiday season at home. Officials decided that if the soldiers couldn't be home this winter, they'd celebrate Christmas early.
BAE Systems, the regiment's corporate partner,
donated money and Walmart reduced the prices on the bicycles. Volunteers from the companies and the regiment gathered at Fort Hood Friday to assemble the gifts and families gathered Saturday to celebrate.
This will be the regiment's fourth deployment to Iraq, and because of its cycle, it will also be the third holiday season the soldiers have been away from home, said Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Hunt, the regiment's senior noncommissioned officer.
This project was important because it showed the soldiers and their families that people outside of the Army community care about them and value their service and sacrifices, said Col. Reginald Allen, regimental commander.
It was a visible, tangible display that others care, he added.
Sgt. Phillip and Christina Bledsoe chased their son, 2-year-old Preston, around the gym Saturday as he expertly pedaled his new tricycle across the tarp-covered floor.
Preston later got an upgrade after an extra bicycle with training wheels became available.
Phillip's goal before deploying was to teach his son to ride a bike and he was happy that accomplishing that was made a little easier with Saturday's event.
Phillip, a tanker, will depart this summer with 2nd Squadron's Heavy Company. This is his second deployment to Iraq.
Phillip said he wasn't sure whether he'd have enough time to teach Preston how to ride without the training wheels before he leaves.
Christina said it was good to see her husband and son do activities like that together before they spend a year apart. It is important for Phillip that he spend time with his wife of three years and his son before deploying, he said.
"It's important they know that I'll always be there," Phillip said.
For more on this story, including more on how the Bledsoe family is preparing for the regiment's upcoming deployment, read Wednesday's Fort Hood Herald.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.