BY M. SCOTT MORRIS
TUPELO – Traci Sutton and Kristi Hillhouse picked the coldest night of December to visit Toys R Us, and they weren't there to shop.
On Sunday night, the toy retailer held a special party for Northeast Mississippi military personnel and their families.
The women's husbands, Spc. Bill Sutton and Sgt. Chuck Hillhouse, recently returned to Camp Shelby from training in California with the rest of the 150th Combat Engineers in Okolona. They'll be on leave beginning Wednesday.
“We'll have a merry Christmas and a cruddy New Year,” Hillhouse said. “He'll have to go back.”
Jennie Oglesby, event coordinator for Toys R Us, said the two-hour party was meant as a thank you.
“It's in appreciation for all they're doing and all they've done,” Oglesby said.
Barnhills in Tupelo provided cupcakes, cookies and punch, and kids were invited to sign up for drawings that included bicycles, Barbie dolls and other toys.
Geoffrey, the Toys R Us “spokesgiraffe,” posed for pictures with kids.
Jeffrey Sones, with First Battalion/185th Aviation in Tupelo, said he appreciated the event. He brought along his wife, Teresa, and their five kids, Sarah, Justin, Rebekah, Jacob and Joseph. The sixth Sones in due in July.
Many of his friends have been called to duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Sones said it's good to know the community is keeping those men and women in mind.
“I'm lucky to be home, and I feel for the people over there who can't be home,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Andy Cook of Houston, and his wife, Kimberly, left their daughter with a sitter so they could buy her Christmas presents.
“We're one of the few units that haven't been called up,” said Cook, also with First Battalion/185th Aviation. “I'm not complaining. I'll step up when I'm called, but I'm glad to be home.”
James Wooley and his wife, Brenda, are members of the Family Support Group for the Ripley National Guard. They helped spread word to military wives about Sunday's event. Brenda has a brother and son in the military.
“We've had so much support from the business community for the families,” Brenda Wooley said. “That's been wonderful.”
Hillhouse brought her daughters, Amanda and Carli, to play with some of the games Toys R Us made available for kids.
Sutton's son was at the Mall at Barnes Crossing shopping for his girlfriend.
The two women, as well as other wives of the 150th, have learned to rely on each other while their husbands are away.
“It's amazing the bonds you make when they leave,” Hillhouse said, pointing to Sutton. “She's the baby-sitter and I repair things.
“We help each other out,” Sutton said. “You have to.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org