By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
On a chilly Thursday morning, dozens of volunteers arrived at Fort Hood with truckloads of snacks, toiletries, bedding and other items to transform 320 stark barracks rooms into cozy homes.
They fluffed pillows, hung up fresh towels, stocked kitchen cabinets and posted sparkling "Welcome Home" signs in each room.
"I hope they'll be surprised," said Gina Bowman, an Army spouse who volunteered to help Thursday.
When single soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team return from Iraq this month, they'll sleep in a room decorated by Army spouses in their unit's family readiness group.
"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.
FRGs at Army bases 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 the stay involved in FRGs while their husbands and wives are overseas. It gives them the opportunity to help others 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 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.