BOLLING AFB, D.C. --
Amid the roaring cheers and applause that filled the United States Air Force Honor Guard's Ceremonial Hall during Drill Team evaluations July 7, sat 13-year-old Bailey Reese, a quiet, unassuming girl with an amazing list of accomplishments.
Bailey is the founder and president of Hero Hugs, a non-profit organization that provides care packages for deployed servicemembers around the world.
With the help of her mother, Diana, the young girl began her life-changing work during the aftermath of a life-altering experience of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
The hurricane wreaked havoc on her home town of Niceville, Fla., and forced her and her mother to wait at a military check point to receive food and water. At a point when most 7-year-olds would have been scared and confused, Bailey looked at the situation from a different viewpoint.
According to Bailey people in the crowd were upset with the situation after the hurricane. Some of the crowd's frustration was focused at the military members, whom the crowd felt should have been expediting the process. Bailey felt the opposite toward the servicemembers, and that the crowd should have praised the people that where there only to help them.
From the ruins of the devastating hurricane, Bailey built an organization that has touched the lives of 40,000 deployed servicemembers while raising more than $350,000. The organization began with Bailey and a few neighborhood children sending 50 care packages in their first six months of operation.
Drill Team members invited Bailey and her mother to visit the team at Bolling Air Force Base after the first meeting at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., in 2008.
Bailey and her mother were in the nation's capitol celebrating the Fourth of July festivities and made their way to Bolling to visit the Drill Team. The pair spent the day touring the base and watching a 12- and four-man performance by the team.
The Drill Team and their performance impressed Bailey. "It's cool, but scary," said Bailey, when commenting on the Drill Team's dangerous and complicated routine.
It's indicative of her age that she thinks what the Drill Team does is scary, but it's ironic considering that what she has accomplished is scary to most adults. She is the youngest president of a non-profit organization; an organization that has received recognition at the highest level-- praised by the President of the United States of America.
The blonde-haired, all-smiles little girl struggled to lift the 11-pound rifles used by the Honor Guard; but is strong enough to carry the work load of a major organization whose efforts reach the far ends of the globe. She excels in school and was a cheerleader until her demanding schedule forced her to choose between Hero Hugs and cheerleading. She chose to give up cheerleading in order to continue her charity work through Hero Hugs.
Speaking softly and modestly, Bailey speaks of what she's done and why she enjoys her work.
"It takes a lot of hard work and time to do all the fund raisers and work I have to do for Hero Hugs," said Bailey. "But, it's very rewarding and fun."
Timid and shy as most girls her age, Bailey humbly accepted praise from Lt. Col. Raymond Powell, Honor Guard commander, as he handed her one of the Honor Guard's challenge coins.
"This is a coin that both the chief and I have to agree on to give someone and we are both in agreement that you deserve it," said Colonel Powell.
There was a third member in Bailey's entourage - "Hero," a stuffed bear who serves as the mascot of the Hero Hugs organization and travels with Bailey everywhere she goes. She did temporarily give up the bear while he completed a "tour of duty" in Iraq- being photographed in countless locales with numerous servicemembers fighting the Global War on Terrorism.
"Hero" was also presented something by the Honor Guard - a Drill Team ascot, emblazoned with cross rifles and stars. This special ascot signifies the highest level of proficiency on the Drill Team.
"It shows a great deal of maturity on her part to be involved and run Hero Hugs," said Staff Sgt. Michael Doss, United States Air Force Honor Guard member. "It means a lot to all Airmen."
For more information on Bailey's organization visit www.herohugs.org
and for more information on the U.S. Honor Guard visit www.bolling.af.mil