Volunteers at Kelley Hill Recreation Center on Fort Benning prepare greeting cards and care packages Saturday for single Soldiers returning from Iraq with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

FORT BENNING, Ga. - Family readiness groups, local businesses and the tricommunity have teamed to make sure single Soldiers returning from Iraq with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team find a little touch of home in their barracks rooms at Kelley Hill.

Hundreds of volunteers prepared linen packages - complete with sheets, a pillow, towel sets and laundry detergent packets - that will be neatly folded and awaiting the Soldiers once they step through their doors. The items were donated directly to the battalions or collected through drop-off points around Columbus and Phenix City.

"The goal is for our single Soldiers to walk into their empty barracks room and see a bed made for them," said Mrs. Andrea Young, the 3rd HBCT's family readiness support assistant. "It's one of those creature-comfort home things that people take for granted. We wanted to give that feeling of, 'Oh, somebody cared for me.'"

The brigade has about 1,600 single Soldiers coming back to Fort Benning who live in the barracks, Mrs. Young said. The group still needed 100 packages Monday, but it planned to have the rest filled by week's end.

Each battalion's FRG also is placing care packages on the beds, she said.

"Coming home to an empty room can be kinda sterile," Mrs. Young said. "It's like a dorm room, not personalized. You want to make it special for them when they walk through the door."

The 3rd HBCT, which deployed to Iraq almost a year ago, has begun its homecoming - the unit's advance party landed at Lawson Army Airfield in mid-August. Mrs. Young said all the Soldiers should be back at Fort Benning by the end of October.

Many single Soldiers aren't from the local area, she said, so they don't have any family here to greet them when they step off the airplane.

"We needed to make sure that everyone got this special welcome home," she said. "We wanted the community to take part and let our Soldiers know they are appreciated."

Soldier On Ministries, a nonprofit group founded in Columbus, played a lead role in organizing the linen-package drive, which it termed Operation Fluffy Pillow.

"It has been the perfect opportunity to involve not only the Columbus community, but also support from across the country," said Soldier On Ministries co-founder Emily Pettitt. "When a Soldier enters his or her barracks room following deployment, he or she finds that many hands were involved in the process of making up a room. ...We believe the more hands we have involved in this operation, the greater the impact we will have on our heroes.

"Deployments are stressful at best, and we as a community can play a large part in helping this generation of Soldiers reintegrate."

Soldier On Ministries is committed to military community outreach by performing a variety of service projects that rely on contributions, according to its website at http://soldieronministries.com/home.html.

Mrs. Pettitt said the organization hopes to conduct this operation at other installations as well. CB&T Bank has set up a special account for public donations, and people may ask about "Operation Fluffy Pillow" at any branch.

Operation Homefront Georgia also took part in the effort here through its Operation Warm and Fuzzy. The nonprofit organization provides emergency and morale assistance to troops and families during deployment and works to aid wounded warriors when they return home, according to its mission statement.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16