12-14-11-red-cross.jpgAh, the holidays! For most, it’s a joyous season of festivities and treasured time shared with family and loved ones. Yet others in our area will fi nd themselves separated from home or family and friends this Christmas, among them soldiers of the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) who are recovering from injuries sustained during military action overseas. To help ensure that these servicemembers experience the spirit and fellowship of the Christmas season and do not spend the holiday alone, volunteers with the American Red Cross (ARC) Ft. Bragg/Pope Field Station, partnering with the Olive Garden restaurant of Fayetteville and Operation Helping Hands for Heroes, will set up and serve a special Christmas Eve dinner from 6 to 7 p.m., in Moon Hall on Ft. Bragg as part of the annual Red Cross Holiday for Heroes.

Moon Hall, part of the Fort Bragg Army Lodging’s Airborne Inn complex, offers a temporary residence for soldiers in the WTB. While many soldiers recover from injuries received during their military service and return to duty when they can, others may spend a year or more receiving prolonged multidisciplinary care before either returning to duty or transitioning to civilian life. Moon Hall becomes “home” during this time of recovery and transition.

This year marks the third Holiday for Heroes dinner that the ARC volunteers will host. After discovering that many parties and events were planned for soldiers in the WTB before Christmas, but none on Christmas Day, Max Powell, a volunteer with the ARC and Warrior Transition Battalion Outreach Support Chair, organized the first Christmas dinner in 2009.

“Christmas is a high-risk time,” said Powell, noting that many of the soldiers suffer from serious issues in addition to being away from home and/or family. “For the past two years, we did this on Christmas Day, and we found fewer turned out than we would like, so what we’re doing this year, is we’re going to do the dinner on Christmas Eve in the hope that we might get a better turnout. On Christmas morning, we’re going to have a continental breakfast at 10 a.m., hosted by Operation Helping Hands for Heroes. It’s convenient for them to walk downstairs and come to eat. We’ll have something to give them — an interruption in their day both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.” Powell added that plans are still coming together.

But the event was not without its challenges this year

“This has been a hard year for the Red Cross,” said Penny Johnson, who serves as an advisor on the Advisory Council of the ARC at Ft. Bragg. “Money has been tight, and we had no leads. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” she said, referring to securing the food donation by the Olive Garden. Johnson expects the group will serve 50 to 100 soldiers and family members.

“God works in mysterious ways. We are so very, very thankful.”

For more information about the ARC Ft. Bragg/Pope Field Holiday for Heroes, or to make a donation to the ARC, please contact Tiffany Shedd, Station Chair, Fort Bragg/Pope Field American Red Cross, at 396-1231, ext. 7.

Photo: Red Cross volunteers preparing to serve a holiday meal.

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