With three young children, Christmas was not always easy for the Culbersons.
Monica Culberson took a part-time job driving for Uber in 2016 to make sure there was enough money for Christmas presents. When it came to travel at the holidays it was near impossible to scrape up enough money to visit Family.
Then-Spc. Corey Culberson was a Cavalry scout at Fort Campbell, but with his salary Christmas usually meant staying home.
For two years, they had missed sharing the holidays with their parents but in 2016, Monica Culberson said a miracle happened when she simply applied to the Armed Services YMCA to take part in Operation Ride Home.
“That was a miracle and-a-half,” said Monica, almost three years later. “That was probably the first time in our marriage that we were not financially strapped over the holidays.”
The Armed Services YMCA selected the Culbersons to receive $100 in money for each Family member, which was enough to cover their fuel and eating expenses while traveling. They got a gift card for $500 and set off for home.
They stopped in Rome, Georgia, to spend time with Corey’s Family and then drove to Augusta, Georgia, to spend Christmas with her father. On the way back, they celebrated the new year with Corey’s Family.
“It was just the best holiday ever,” she said.
Preparations for the 2019 Operation Ride Home are underway and the Armed Forced YMCA at Fort Campbell is preparing to select as many Soldiers and their Families to send home for Christmas as $22,000 will allow, said Hillary Brewer, education coordinator for the Armed Services YMCA Fort Campbell.
Those money is available to help Fort Campbell Soldiers and their Families to get up to $400 each for airline tickets or $100 each for travel money if driving.
“Many of us, we don’t have Family here and it’s a big expense trying to get Christmas presents for our Families and the holidays, so getting this opportunity to get to go home when we have no Family here – I’m choking up but it’s great,” Brewer said. “It’s amazing. Some of our Soldiers could be sitting here alone for the holidays and so this gets them home. Some haven’t seen their Families in years.”
Applications for Operation Ride Home are being accepted through Nov. 15. Applications are available to active-duty sergeants and below, said Peter Giusti, Armed Forced YMCA Fort Campbell Executive Director. Family members of deployed service member may complete the application. Applicants who do not already have a free Armed Forced YMCA membership will be prompted to create one.
A committee is being formed to go through the applications, Giusti said. Those selected will be notified by email beginning Nov. 20, and a representative from Armed Forced YMCA will call to book travel arrangements.
“It’s a pretty good deal,” Giusti said.
Brewer, a military spouse with three children, said she understands how difficult it can be to travel at Christmas.
“We’ve had so many service members come home from deployment recently, for them to get to go home and see their Families would mean the world to everybody,” she said.
Many who apply for the program get creative. Some write essays about what it would mean for them to get to go home for the holidays. Some make their case with videos.
Applications can be submitted online at www.asymca.org/operation-ride-home or mailed to the Fort Campbell Armed Forced YMCA, P.O. Box 629, Fort Campbell, KY 42223, or dropped off at 3068 Reed Ave. office on post. For more information, call Danielle Holt with the Armed Services YMCA Fort Campbell branch at 563-210-3260.
Monica Culberson said the year she received the travel money was one she’ll never forget.
“It was a total blessing that year that we were able to get it,” she said.
Although they have since moved to Fort Stewart, Georgia, where they are closer to Family, they also were excited to learn that now-Sgt. Corey Culberson will return to Fort Campbell in March when he joins 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
That’s also a trip the Culbersons are looking forward to and Monica said the Family is in a pretty good financial situation now and doesn’t expect future Christmas trips to be out of reach.
Georgia is nice, but Fort Campbell came to feel like home, Monica said. Her children are now 13, 6 and almost 5.
“We fell in love with the area, so we are super excited to come back,” she said.
Guisti said he doesn’t know many people will be selected to get airline tickets or travel cards, because it depends on how many $400 or $100 applications are submitted. He just wants to help to those who need or want it.
“We really want to get the word out to as many Families as we can,” he said.
Additional information is also available on the Fort Campbell Armed Forced YMCA’s Facebook page.