FORT BENNING, Ga. - Christmas came early for 100 Fort Benning families when Chicago-based Operation Homelink gave free refurbished computers Saturday at the Kelley Hill Recreation Center.

This was Operation Homelink's first donation to Fort Benning families.

"What a great Christmas gift!" said Andrea Young, Family Readiness Support assistant for 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. "You don't a get an opportunity very often where an organization comes, finds you and says 'Can we give you a computer'' A lot of people can't afford $300 to $400 to spend on a computer. This is above and beyond generosity."

"It's a blessing," said Shatavia Morris, whose husband is on his first deployment to Iraq. "(My son) will be able to see his dad all the time, and that makes a big difference."

Sharen Hicks said the computer couldn't have come at a better time. Although she and her three girls have used the school's Internet a few times since see her husband and their father deployed, the communication wasn't good.

"Now, I will be able to communicate with him everyday," she said. "Instead of my husband standing in a long line and waiting on the phone, he can get on the computer, and I can see him. This is right on time."

Dan Shannon, president and founder of the non-profit organization, teared up while greeting families, and committed to distributing webcams next week to those who received computers.

Although no money is exchanged, Shannon said there is a cost with the computers.

"There were earned when each of these Soldiers signed up," he said. "They're earned every morning when they strap on their boots and do the heavy lifting for the rest of America, and they're earned by all of these folks ... who are going the extra mile to hold down the fort while their loved one is deployed."

Businesses like Raytheon, which donated Saturday's computers, give laptops to the organization, Shannon said. And then they refurbish and sell the laptops to purchase two desktops.

Shannon arranged for first the donation of 10 computers shortly after 9/11.

"The news was filled with stories of men and women being called to serve, and I imagined what it would be like to say goodbye to my wife and four kids," he said.
Operation Homelink has donated totaled 3,100 computers, and Shannon said he expects to give out at least 1,000 next year.

Families of deployed or soon-to-be-deployed Soldiers in the pay grade of E-1 to E-5 are eligible for the gift.

Young said she hopes to see more Operation Homelink distributions and urges local businesses to donate their unused computers.

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