Rudy Brostrom looked nervously at the 150 Sunshine boxes waiting to be handed out Nov. 13 to injured Fort Gordon soldiers.
Brostrom, the leader of the Sunshine People’s Thank a Wounded Warrior program in North Augusta, had a backup plan if there weren’t enough goodie boxes for the men and women who were hurt while in service.
He said any member of the Fort Gordon Warrior Transition Battalion who did not get a care package would get a hug and a kiss from one of the eight teenage South Carolina pageant winners who were on hand to distribute the boxes.
The soldiers settled for sharing a conversation, photo and some sweets with the girls – many of whom had military members in their families.
The girls traveled from Spartanburg, Lexington and Anderson, S.C., to bring a little sunshine to the area’s local heroes.
However, some did get hugs too.
“This is great,” said Army Spc. Jean Bermudez, who suffered a concussion in Afghanistan when a 9mm bullet grazed his helmet.
Bermudez said his spirits were immediately lifted when Paige Holloway, Miss North Charleston Teen USA, brought him a Sunshine box filled with granola bars and M&Ms. Before Paige left, he played Here Comes the Sun for the pageant winner on his harmonica.
“All the generosity and support is a real morale booster,” he said. “It lets me know my time overseas was not wasted.”
Paige, a junior at North Augusta High School, said she heard about the Sunshine Box program from RPM Productions, an Aiken arts-and-entertainment company that puts on the state preliminaries for Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.
She said she jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the event.
Her father, Tim Holloway, served in the Air Force from 1982 to 1987.
“I was so excited when I found out I got to come, because this is my first trip to Fort Gordon and being able to meet all the men and women who served our country is such an honor,” she said.
“They have given us so much and to give them a little memento they can enjoy is the least we can do.”
Maj. Gen. Reginald Wade, the leader of the Warrior Transition Battalion, said the event saw great participation.
“It is the thought that counts and makes the difference,” he said. “Anytime someone takes time out of a busy schedule to show support, it’s a great day.”
Kelehear Dickerson, Miss Aiken Teen USA, said before attending the event she called her grandfather, Phil Stanley, who received the Purple Heart for his time in the Army during the Vietnam War.
Kelehear said he was overcome with pride for his granddaughter – so was Army Spc. Edgardo Mercado, the injured soldier who received a Sunshine Box from her.
Mercado said he talked to Kelehear about how he injured his lower back in Afghanistan when he fell from a moving Humvee and how me misses his wife back home in Puerto Rico.
“What she did today was a nice gesture,” Mercado said. “It means the world that people care.”
Kelehear described the experience as humbling.
“I can’t imagine not being able to hear their stories,” Dickerson said.
“It is a really cool opportunity that not everyone gets to experience, and I feel so blessed to be here and meet some of America’s heroes.”