As 1st Sgt. James Hicks shook hands with the residents of Delnor Glen retirement community and passed out coins with his Army company's slogan on them, he delivered a thank you for nine months of continued support from a source close to his heart.
Hicks' mother, Linda, works in the kitchen at Delnor Glen in St. Charles. She helped rally the residents and students at nearby Lincoln Elementary to put together nearly 40 care packages for Hicks and his troops while they were stationed in Afghanistan.
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Battery-operated lights, personal hygiene items, candy and even a Slinky or two helped each day pass knowing that people back home were thinking of them, Hicks said. Some of the residents even knitted red scarves for the troops to wear.
"You can't go wrong with sending personal hygiene items to troops," Hicks said. "Just going to the bathroom over there is a 100-yard hike. And the Slinkies, we just had a blast with everything they sent. There's definitely a lot of things back here you take for granted. You step back in time a bit when you're over there."
About 20 residents of the community spent an hour with Hicks, who is home visiting his mother while on leave. Hicks has served for nearly 21 years. As a first sergeant, he is responsible for 60 to 65 troops at any given time. His role also puts him into service as a door gunner on Blackhawk helicopters during transport missions.
His duty has included service in Iraq, South Korea and Germany in addition to Afghanistan. He plans on another three or four years in the military before he retires.
"I'll retire sooner if we deploy again," Hicks said. "That's a young man's game. I just can't do that anymore."
Hicks is home through the end of June. Then he will return to Fort Campbell, which straddles the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. He is hoping to finish out his career at Fort Campbell.
"I've seen Europe," Hicks said to the residents. "I've seen Korea and a few other places. We're done with Iraq and Afghanistan. So you've got to hope everyone else in the world can get along for awhile and have a group hug so we don't have to go anywhere."
The residents applauded Hicks for his service. They plan to continue sending care packages to troops with local connections that are identified by staff at the community.