Hugs Sent to Iowa Soldiers Serving Overseas

BOONE, Iowa  --  This fall, nearly 400 Iowa soldiers answered the call of duty in the state’s largest deployment in seven years.  The men and women have spent the past two months training in Texas.

Now they’re mission ready to head overseas and the sooner they get the job done, the sooner they can return home their families’ waiting arms.

Ashley Hirsch hugged her soldier goodbye at a sendoff in Boone.

“Gotta prepare yourself mentally and just kinda do it,” said Hirsch.

Having husband, Staff Sergeant Andy Hirsch, away on his first deployment didn’t just change her lifestyle.  His absence has been a big adjustment for their three kids.

The normally happy 9 year old Cayden, a 4th grader at Jefferson Elementary, wasn’t laughing like he used.  Art teacher Susan VandeHaar took notice.

“Especially, I think around the holiday of having a parent deployed is hard on a little person,” she said.

Cayden isn’t just missing his dad.  He’s also missing his wrestling coach, baseball coach and basically the best Dad ever.

“He is,” said Cayden.

The deployed Dad is about to feel the love from him.  Cayden and his classmates traced, cut and colored a huggable version of themselves to send overseas.

A handwritten letter adds the finishing touch.

“Dear Dad, I hope you have a good time overseas.  Love you.”

“Now when you're sad, you can always have a hug and I thought, oh my gosh, that was my whole intent was that they would have that feeling that is what they're sending to them,” said VandeHaar.

“He'll probably really love it,” Cayden said.

Since they can’t hold their soldier close, friends and strangers are joining this military family in sending the next best thing.  Twenty hand-made hugs.

“When they say 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' they're not kidding,” said Hirsch.

The Iowa soldiers are working with U.S. Central Command on assignments that could take them to Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa.