The mix of smoky, sweet barbecue aroma permeated the air as 150 single service members made a beeline to the food at the USO of North Carolina-Fort Bragg Center Dec. 11.

In the background, the ubiquitous “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey blared while volunteers at the annual USO single service-member holiday lunch greeted Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors with smiles and handshakes.

Among those who attended was Pvt. Laura Lavery. She walked to an empty seat with her meal and a manila envelope clutched in her armpit. Fresh to the Army and recently assigned to 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command right out of advanced individual training, Lavery is a single mother who had only been at Bragg for five days.

“So far I’ve actually just been getting my house ready,” she said. “I have two kids. I’m getting ready for them to come live with me.”

Attending an event like this during the holidays meant a lot to single Soldiers like Lavery because she said it made them feel more at home and situated in the community she will be living in for the next few years.

“If you’re new here, you’re nervous, you don’t know where to go and you don’t know what to do,” she said. “It gives you that little piece of ‘somebody cares about you.’”

And caring for the Soldiers was what the luncheon was all about. Also at the event were members from the Anderson Creek Women’s Club (ACWC) from Spring Lake. They donated 150 Christmas stockings filled with chips, beef jerky, a deck of cards, candycane, more loose candy and a handwritten Christmas card.

“We support the USO at Fort Bragg … because it’s hard to be away from home,” said Bobbi Ylunker, ACWC head of public issues committee. “It’s to say thank you for their service and what they’ve given up in order to protect our country.”

For Ylunker, she said it was ACWC’s honor to be able to provide support and show their appreciation to the Soldiers through the USO.

Renee Lane, USO Sand Hills director, said with this lunch, the USO wanted to show their appreciation to service members every day of the year, especially during the holidays. It is the USO’s way of connecting Bragg’s service members to Family, home and country.

“We might not be Family, but we are like family to them,” Lane said. “We have so many community partners here today who want to wish them a Merry Christmas and give the assurance that we do care here.”

Lane said it’s important for service members, particularly those who are missing the holidays with their Families for the first time, to feel the support of the community.

“We want them to understand that there are people here who care for them and looking out for them no matter what.”