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Deployed soldiers’ families to celebrate Christmas on Sunday

The daughter and son of Senior Airman Jose Lopez Castro, a crew chief for the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, talk with Santa Claus during the 123rd Airlift Wing’s family holiday party at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Dec. 2, 2012. The annual event also offered snacks and prizes for the more than 85 children who participated. (Kentucky Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Maxwell Rechel)

Although the 170 soldiers from 206th Engineer Battalion are deployed, many of their family members will still come together for the annual Kentucky National Guard Family Christmas Day.

The event, sponsored by the Spc. Brandon Scott Mullins Memorial Foundation, will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Maj. Gen. (Ret) Dean Allen Youngman Owensboro National Guard Readiness Center.

Cathy Mullins, foundation president, said this will be the fourth straight Christmas Family Day but this is going to be the first time the guard members won’t be there to celebrate with their loved ones.

“Last year, we had 500 people there; it was amazing,” Mullins said. “… But this year they weren’t going to do this because they didn’t think anybody would show up. But I told them to let us know and we can do it for the families left behind.”

A notice was sent out to the families, and so far, 150 RSVPs were returned.

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Mullins said Sgt. First Class Scott Wallace, who oversees Owensboro’s armory, gave her the green light to go ahead with this year’s Family Christmas Day.

“Last year it was sponsored by the Guard, and we just supported it,” Mullins said. “But this year we’re sponsoring the whole thing just as a love to the families.”

Michelle and Shane Mattingly will be among the military families attending this year’s event.

Their 24-year-old son, Tyler, is a sergeant serving with the 206th that was deployed to the Middle East in late July.

“You want that investment in your soldier even when they’re gone,” Mattingly said. “So the Family Day is kind of a way to do that. Even though they’re not here, you still feel like you’re involved in what they’re doing.”

The Mattinglys have been in contact with their son since he’s been deployed.

“Where he’s at now we’ve been very fortunate because we’re able to talk to him on a pretty regular basis,” Michelle Mattingly said. “…He’s single so he doesn’t have some of the things at home that some of them would worry about, like a wife and kids.”

Santa Claus will be there to take photos with the children. The children will also receive a stuffed teddy bear known as a Battalion Buddy, courtesy of Operation Gratitude — a national nonprofit that supports the military and first responders.

“It’s a meal, it’s a social time and gifts with Santa,” Mullins said.

Although the event is for the families of the deployed soldiers, Mullins said she is accepting casseroles and side dishes from anyone in the public who would like to donate to the Family Day.

She said the food can be dropped from 8 to 10 a.m. at the armory, 3300 Tamarack Road.

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© 2019 the Messenger-Inquirer