VICENZA, Italy — This year, a large portion of the soldiers stationed at Caserma Ederle will miss celebrating the holiday season in northern Italy.

But community members who want to do something to bring a bit of cheer to those from the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade and other units deployed to Iraq can do so, thanks to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and the base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation department.

A tree set up in the base shoppette has cards representing an unnamed soldier that community members can take. People are asked to pair the card with a present or two — it doesn’t have to be purchased at an AAFES facility — and return everything to the shoppette. The local MRW office takes care of getting the presents mailed to units downrange.

As an incentive, those bringing in presents receive an ornament that — depending on color — will earn AAFES discounts, free snacks and video rentals or dozens of larger prizes.

Store manager Cindy Brown said the community response has been good since the tree went up on the day before Thanksgiving.

“It’s been really positive,” she said. “We’ve had about three cartfuls of merchandise.”

Brown said people don’t pick out presents for a particular soldier, though they can personalize their gifts by signing cards if they wish.

She said store employees came up with the idea for “Operation Airborne Gifts” and AAFES personnel designed the cards and other program material.

Those stumped for gift ideas can get some help from a list posted near the tree. Items in demand include magazines, compact discs, books and board games.

The tree will stay in the shoppette through Christmas, while MRW officials are sending on the gifts weekly.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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