Catherine Ross, Plano Journalist
As Texas-based servicemen and women get ready to come home to Fort Hood from Iraq, Plano-based Operation Once in a Lifetime is making sure they have a place to rest their heads.
Thousands of soldiers are coming home for good this holiday season and one Plano-based charity is helping the armed forces make the transition from the front lines to the home front.
Money made at the Operation Once in a Lifetime Resale Center in Plano makes up 10% of the charity's funds to support American soldiers, the rest comes from donations.
In the coming months the donations are going toward the organization's biggest mission as thousands of Texas troops return home because of downsizing in the U.S. military and the presidential declaration to withdraw forces from the Iraq by the end of the year.
"Soldiers are people. People first. Not a deceased soldier, not a wounded soldier, not a deployed soldier, just a person," said Patrick Sowers, Operation Once in a Lifetime founder and former sergeant with the United States Army.
Sowers is on his way to Fort Hood, coordinating a massive effort to welcome soldiers home from Iraq.
"Now it’s 2,000 soldiers coming back in December," Sowers said.
For single men and women, the transition stateside means coming "home" to an empty barracks room and a mattress – no sheets and no pillow.
While helping Sowers “clean out” the supply of fleece blankets and sheets from Anna’s Linens in Plano, Cindy Brackeen noted her nephew may be on the receiving end of this particular load.
"He will be coming home the middle of December to Fort Hood," Brackeen said. "It makes me thrilled to know that someone cares enough."
Over the past four years, Operation Once in a Lifetime donated more than $500,000 worth of pillows, sheets and blankets to returning servicemen and women.
Operation Once in a Lifetime also provides other services such as flying service members home to visit family, taking them to football games or supporting a military family after a cancer diagnosis.