By Debbie Gregory.
On December 23rd, the family of soldiers at Fort Hood lost a beloved supporter.
For the last 12 years, Elizabeth Laird, lovingly known as the Fort Hood Hug Lady, physically embraced hundreds of thousands of Fort Hood soldiers. More often than not, her hug was the last one soldiers received before boarding a plane for deployment, and the first one they received when they returned home. Regardless of the time of day or night, or her own personal trials, she was there.
Just after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Laird began volunteering at Fort Hood with the Salvation Army. And she always found time to shake a hand or two. One day a soldier asked for a hug instead, and that simple act began her legacy.
The 83-year-old great-grandmother had been battling cancer for some ten years. But in spite of her illness, she regularly made her way to Fort Hood and hugged the necks of those being deployed. She reassured those who were afraid, and provided company to those who felt alone. She encouraged and prayed for them all.
A GoFundMe page was set up to cover $10,000 of her medical expenses, but as a final embrace, nearly $95,000 from more than 3,000 donors was raised.
Unbeknownst to many, Laird herself was former military, having joined the Air Force at 18. She ended up at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
An online petition is circulating, with nearly 24,000 signatures, for the Fort Hood Deployment Center to be named the Elizabeth Laird Deployment Center.
“For more than a decade, she has been personally saying farewell to our troops as they deploy and greeting them as they return,” Col. Christopher C. Garver, III Corps public affairs officer, said in a statement. “It is with heavy hearts that we express our gratitude for Elizabeth, not only for her service with the U.S. Air Force, but also in recognition of her tireless efforts to show her appreciation for our Soldiers and her recognition of their many sacrifices … she will be deeply missed.”