FORT HOOD, Texas – The holiday season arrived a bit early on Fort Hood as soldiers and their families from Task Force Pegasus Fires and the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade gathered at Clarke Elementary School Nov. 16.
Nearly 500 people from the two brigades came together to participate in Santa’s Ruck March: a one-mile march to donate toys for those in need.
“We’ve got soldiers. We’ve got families. We’ve got kids. We’ve got strollers. We’ve got dogs. This is a family event to support our community,” said Maj. Julian Urquidez, Task Force Pegasus Fires operations officer. “The purpose of this event is the opportunity to give back to our own — officers, soldiers, noncommissioned officers giving back to other NCOs, officers and soldiers.”
Of the soldiers and families participating, almost everyone had a rucksack, an assault pack, a back pack, or a satchel of some sort all stuffed with toys. The toys donated to Santa’s Workshop support Fort Hood families who are in need of help this holiday season.
“I was shopping at Toys "R" Us last night for this event, and I thought to myself, ‘Everybody needs a bike, so why not?” said Capt. David Elmo.
Elmo, the commander of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, had strapped to his backpack a lavender and powder-blue bike, complete with tassels on the handlebars.
Elmo said he, like many others, believes small gestures like donating toys adds up to creating an exceptional Christmas memory for families, who may not have the funds or resources to provide their kids with gifts.
“These soldiers give a lot. They give 100 percent every day, and it’s great to be able to take care of them and give something back to them, give something back to the community,” Elmo said. “That’s what makes a community, small gestures like this … it’s all these people together that are going to make this possible.”
“It’s amazing how many of them are out here today,” said Lt. Col. Lance Cangelosi, commander of the 589th Brigade Support Battalion, Task Force Pegasus Fires. “Everybody’s out here. They’re not only wearing Christmas gear, they’re wearing unit gear, showing their pride, showing their community support. It’s just a tremendous event.”
After a short speech from Col. Cory Mendenhall, the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade commander, the march began.
Dogs barked, stroller wheels squealed, and unit guidons flapped in the wind. Moving slowly toward their destination, the combined mass from the two brigades made their way down the road and finally reached Santa’s Workshop.
Rucksack after rucksack was emptied onto two long tables in the middle of a large room. The tables quickly became overwhelmed, and toys had to be placed on the floor underneath the tables.
Lisa West helped direct families through the workshop after they delivered their toys. As the president of Santa’s Workshop, West said she was thrilled to see the turn-out.
“Each child gets two toys, a book, and then every family gets a game,” said West, who has been involved with Santa’s Workshop since 2012. “They also get stocking-stuffers, so they walk out of here with a big bag of goodies for their children.”
The workshop provides toys for children from age 6 months up to 12 years old. Parents have a two-week window from Dec. 4 to 16 to pick toys for their kids.
Last year, Santa’s Workshop accepted applications to provide toys for 1,700 families. This year, that number has grown to 1,845 families, which means Santa’s Workshop will be providing toys, games and Christmas memories to almost 4,000 children on Fort Hood.