Their clothes are still musty from the borrowed foot locker and their seabags still have some foreign dust stuck to them. For many service members homecomings mean sleeping in their own bunk, but not necessarily falling into the arms of a missed loved one.
More than a dozen volunteers for USO North Carolina-Jacksonville stuffed Rack Packs Wednesday in an effort to be that warm hug for those single service members.
Rack Packs contain basic toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, razors, shaving cream and snacks.
Most of the items were donated to the USO, a large majority of them coming from Hampton Inn in Swansboro.
Once filled they will be placed on the racks, or bunks of single service members just before they step off the bus, returning home from deployment.
“The USO has been taking care of me while I was deployed and at home so this is a way for me to return the favor,” active duty Marine Kael O’Kelley said as he helped fill Rack Packs.
Spending the morning volunteering his time with his wife was fun for him, O’Kelley said.
O’Kelley was one stop on the assembly line of volunteers.
Leading the charge of the project were new volunteers Geri Steele and Cynthia Avalos.
The women, while new to volunteering at the USO, were no stranger to the military and wanting to help in any way they could.
“My daughter is a Family Readiness Officer so I feel connected to the military in that way,” Avalos said. “I want to do what I can to support the troops.”
For 26 years Steele was a military wife and was excited to be a part of the special community again.
“I love to see the people here supporting the military,” she said. “This keeps us involved with the military. What better way to do so than to support the troops.”
The group packed nearly 1,000 Rack Packs and had plans to work on Deployment Packs as well, USO Center Coordinator Jeff Weller said.
Deployment Packs are very similar to the Rack Packs containing toiletries and snacks, as well as a phone card and folded American flag.
Small enough to fit in a cargo pocket the bags are handed to service members as they board the bus for deployment, Weller said.
“The things in both these things are those small things people take for granted until they don’t have them,” he said. “These give our service members a little bit of comfort whether they are coming home or leaving.”
To help put together Rack Packs or Deployment Bags, sign up to be a volunteer at volunteers.uso.org.
Donations of travel size toiletries are also welcome and can be dropped off at the USO 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.