FORT RILEY, Kan. -- With an infant car seat in the crook of her arm, a toddler in a child carrier on her back and two kids under the age of 10 in tow, Stephanie Marshall, wife of Sgt. Justin Weaver, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, made her way to find a spot to wait and receive a free bicycle for her daughter Kaylen Weaver, 6.

Marshall was one of the many Blue Star parents whose kids were eligible to receive a free bicycle and helmet waiting at Academy Sports in Manhattan, Kansas, Dec. 12. The Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation arranged for 60 bicycles and helmets fit for kids ages 6 through 8 years old to be given out to families of deployed Soldiers. A Blue Star family are family members of men and women serving in the armed forces during any period of war or hostilities in which the United States are engaged.

Marshall said the event was beneficial for her family because it's one thing off her kids' Christmas wish list. The program helped her get what her daughter wanted despite having to manage the holidays by herself this year, she said.

"It's a load off my shoulders that (Kaylen) is happy and not worried about daddy not being here for Christmas," Marshall said. "She's already asked multiple times if he's coming home for Christmas. He's already missed enough, like he missed the birth of (my youngest). It's a big weight lifted off because she's happy."

For Kaylen, receiving her first big-girl bicycle means a great deal to her, Marshall said. Kaylen had been wanting a bicycle since she learned how to ride one.

"She's super excited now that she actually has a bike she can ride on and not have to worry for her friend to be done with her bike," she said. "She just learned how to ride a bike without training wheels and her friend has a bike. So she's been learning off of that one and was like, 'Can I please get a new one?' So we've been working on how to get her one and she's not missing out on anything even though (my husband) is gone."
Rodney Hollerich, store director of Academy Sports, said for him giving back to families of the deployed is a rewarding feeling.

"Seeing the smiles on the kids' faces just means more than you can even imagine and it warms the heart," Hollerich said. "It's a great feeling just giving back to the community."

The supervisor for that evening, Matt Enoch, DFMWR community program coordinator, said it increases resiliency of the family.

"Anything that we can do to increase morale and decrease stress of military families, increases the resiliency of the family member, especially the family member that is going through deployment," Enoch said. "Whether it's giving away free bikes … those recreation experiences increase resiliency and that increased resilience translates into a more ready Army."