BELL COUNTY, Texas — Gathering with family for the holidays is a tradition in most families but for those serving in the military, that is not always possible.
A somber fact that comes with putting on a uniform to serve your country, is that you are almost guaranteed to miss a holiday or two.
"You don’t really think about a lot of that when you’re over there until those holidays come up. In fact, you forget that the holiday season is even there sometimes and then it’s like, oh wow today’s Christmas, shoot,” said Ben Parker, Retired U.S. Army Veteran.
Pete Basica has invited soldiers and veterans to spend Christmas with him and his family for several years and now he is trying to get others to join in the tradition he is calling Host A Hero.
But this tradition isn't just for Christmas, families can host a hero year-round for all family holidays including Easter, Eid Al-Fitr, Hanukkah, and Thanksgiving.
"The idea behind it is really pretty simple. Go back to 9/11, after that everybody wanted to do something to help out and I got involved in the military community through some of my friends,” said Pete Basica.
From his home in New York, he and other volunteers are working to recruit as many people and families as possible to host a Fort Hood soldier for this holiday season.
From the mind of Pete Basica to the hearts of Central Texans, the efforts to make sure no active duty military or veteran have to spend the holidays alone through the Host A Hero program has taken off.
”The generosity and the heart of some of these people is just, it gives me chills really.” said Shawn Bertholf, Project Manager for Rememberourmilitary.com.
Open hearts like of Annette Whittenberger, a retired Army veteran in Killeen who has volunteered to be a host.
”I thought it was a great idea. I wish I would have done this years ago. I wish we would have had this years ago. It was usually just within our own internal unit that would host soldiers.” said Whittenberger.
While they have been focusing primarily on active-duty soldiers, the Host A Hero program is was designed for all service members current and former.
It's a small service to our heroes and one that U.S. Army veteran Ben Parker says was a blessing when he spent Christmas with Pete’s family several years ago.
"The opportunity for strangers to open up their homes to you, kind of help reinforce what it is that you’re doing, why you joined the military, and why you’re there,” said Parker.
Parker wants folks to know what this could do for soldiers but, he also has a message for soldiers and veterans that might be hesitant to accept the invitation.
"Put your hesitancies aside. Take a chance. You just might meet a family that becomes a life-long friend,” said Parker.
Pete and the others are just a group of volunteers trying to help our heroes in uniform have a place to go for the holidays and asking others to join them in starting this holiday tradition.
They currently have over 100 slots open and that includes folks like the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders who volunteered to treat 12 people to traditional Texas BBQ on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
Anyone interested in learning more or opening your home to a service member for the holidays can sign up for Host A Hero at rememberourmilitary.com.
Veterans or soldiers can visit the same link and click 'Find me a holiday family' to be matched.