By Jason B. CutshawJanuary 13, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- The nation witnessed Fort Drum's holiday spirit recently when 112 expectant mothers were treated to an early-morning surprise.
NBC's "Today" show hosted a baby shower at the Commons as nearly 50 employees of Walmart Supercenter on Route 11 gave each mother-to-be a stroller full of necessities for their newborns.
"We were contacted to help support approximately 100 expecting mothers, so in just a couple of days we gathered the items and we had nearly 50 volunteer associates stuff the strollers with gifts, and we are going to present them live on the 'Today' show," said Cindy Humerickhouse, Evans Mills Walmart store manager, before the event. "We are very fortunate to be a part of the Fort Drum community, so we are happy to give back to those who serve the nation. We are excited to be able to be a part of this.
"This should be a great surprise, and I would imagine there will be a lot of hugs and a lot of tears," she added.
During their visit, members of the "Today" show staff spoke to several spouses of Soldiers assigned to Fort Drum and spotlighted them and their struggles as they support both their deployed husbands and also their families on post.
"This means a great deal," said Cindy Burleson, wife of Col. Bill Burleson, 1st Brigade Combat Team commander. "I have been a military spouse of almost 21 years, and I have never experienced anything like this. For a show as big as the 'Today' show to come and find the time during this busy holiday season is extremely overwhelming. The spouses are very touched, and I think they are amazed that others are thinking of them during this holiday season."
As members of the "Today" show staff spent time on the installation, they remarked at how amazed they were during a welcome home ceremony and how words could not capture the emotions they witnessed when husbands and wives, parents and children are reunited.
"I have never seen a welcome home ceremony in person, only on television, and there is a whole emotion and a whole emotional connection there that you don't get just watching it on TV," said Jeff Kleinman, NBC news cameraman. "You can see some of the loneliness of the people there, but then when you see the reunion, it is just so heartwarming."
"Fort Drum was really exciting," he added. "The weather was a little bleaker than I thought would be, yet the hearts of everyone was so warm and generous that it warmed you right up."
Another member of the NBC team spoke about how happy they were to show the American public a small glimpse of what Soldiers and family members go through and the sacrifices not only the troops make, but also the sacrifices of those who eagerly await their return.
"My visit here to Fort Drum was fantastic," said Mary Ann Zoellner, "Today" show producer. "Everyone here is so nice and giving. As I did my research, I found out how much Fort Drum and the Soldiers do for the country, and it was an honor to be here.
"The families and mothers we spoke to were great," she added. "They were very emotional, and it is an emotional time for them, and the support they receive is great. I am amazed at how supportive the community is, and I am so happy I got to be here and be a part of this."
Shortly after speaking with the "Today" show studio, the mothers -to-be were truly surprised as Walmart employees burst through wrapping paper doors to deliver strollers filled to the brim with goodies.
"This is amazing," said Nichole Holobowicz, wife of 1st Lt. Lance Holobowicz, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment. "Sometimes you feel really alone, and to have this makes you feel a little more appreciated for what you do as a military spouse when your husband is deployed.
"It was very exciting to be on national TV," she added. "I had no idea what was going on. They just asked us to show up, smile and look nice. It was a real treat, and I am thankful for everyone who helped make this happen."
Strollers contained items such as diapers, digital cameras, car seats, baby clothes and books.
The gifts were donated by Walmart and coordinated with "Operation Shower," a nonprofit organization that provides baby showers to spouses of Soldiers.
"This is a very exciting day," said Darci Michaud, wife of Capt. Jake Michaud, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment. "Being on national TV was a lot of fun. It was exciting, and it was an opportunity for all of our families across the nation to be able to see us for the holidays, if not in person, at least we can be in their living rooms.
"This is fantastic," she added. "To receive this kind of support around Christmas when some of our husbands are deployed means a lot to us."