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Never too young to be a hero

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Veronica McMahon
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines working the Tyndall Air Force Base air show Saturday received an unexpected surprise that caught many off guard. Hard at work on the flightline in the blazing sun, many troops were stopped by the voice of an 11-year-old girl thanking each military member for their service. Along with the "thank-you" came a goodie bag.

The little girl handing out the "doses of appreciation" was Bailey Reese, founder and president of Hero Hugs, an organization based on recognizing and appreciating America's troops. Hero Hugs is part of America Supports You, a Department of Defense organization connecting citizens and organizations with military members and their families serving here and abroad.

Hero Hugs was started by Bailey, with the help of her family, roughly four years ago. In those years, they've sent care packages to Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea, and they visit military events to show their appreciation for America's troops.

More than 26,000 packages, 10,000 goodie bags and five air shows later, Bailey showed up here to share her gratitude with Tyndall Airmen.

Bailey, along with her mother, Diane Reese, and her 16-year-old brother Tim Calvert, spent the entire day passing more than 600 goodie bags comprised of granola bars, candy bars, hard candy, powdered drink mix and hand wipes.

Bailey explained she began Hero Hugs after Hurricane Ivan, when she witnesses servicemembers who were providing humanitarian help being treated poorly.

"I saw people yelling at the (troops) at the checkpoint where (Soldiers and Airmen) were giving out ice and water," said Bailey. "I didn't hear anyone say thank you to them."

Bailey said she went home and made thank you cards for the servicemembers. She recalled how the cards brought tears to their eyes and how rewarding it was to know they felt appreciated.

When she started Hero Hugs, she sent about 100 packages out each month, said her mom. Now, due to extra support, the organization sends about 1,000 packages monthly.

"We raise money by fundraisers, collecting donations and selling Support our Troops magnets," said Diana Reese. "We also have received some donations from corporations and businesses."

During the air show, many people heard Bailey's heart-warming story. The story, along with the goodie bags and the many thanks, brought out positive reactions from the servicemembers.

Elementary school classes, scout troops and volunteers from across the United States have also helped by decorating packages and conducting fund-raisers.

"I thought it was outstanding," said Capt. August Pfluger, 325th Fighter Wing Operations Support Squadron F-15 simulators chief, air show chairman and recipient of one of Bailey's goodie bags. "I heard nothing but good things (about her) from everyone in uniform. They were surprised and very appreciative of the support they received."

Some troops thanked her with a unit coin or patch. Bailey, in return, also "coined" 10 troops with her Hero Hugs coin.

"I'll do this for as long as I can," said Bailey. "It felt really good when (the troops) said thank you. I knew they all really appreciated it."

To find out more about Bailey and her organization visit www.herohugs.org.