PLANT CITY, Fla. - The greatest hope for Deann Marasco this holiday season was to reunite with her husband, Master Sergeant Patrick Marasco. Gone for nine months, he's missed many family milestones including his son Adam's 10th birthday. But now he has a chance to be back in time for Christmas.
"Just to celebrate and be together as one is so important," said Marasco. "When you have been separated for as long as we have, you almost don't need gifts. It's just a gift in itself to be with each other," she said.
Marasco and other family members got word that their loved ones' nine-month deployment in Kuwait would end in mid-January after a camp in Mississippi. They are to arrive in Mississippi a day or so before the holiday.
The military offered a special four-day pass so they could spend the holidays at home, but the servicemen and women have to pay for their own transportation.
"Some of the family members were not going to come home, simply because of the financial burden," explained Marasco.
Former House Representative Rich Glorioso served in the U.S. Air Force for 27 years, and decided to help. He partnered with Dan Raulerson, the current representative who now sits in his seat, and they went to work. Airline tickets were out of the question.
"How do you find an airline ticket one day before Christmas? Find one and you have to sell your house!" said Glorioso.
So, they looked into buses.
"We want them on the buses and rolling out of the gate when their leave officially starts," said Glorioso.
Even buses aren't cheap, though. The total tab was $35,000. But the call for help was answered.
Walgreens and Publix each pledged $5,000, and hundreds of others responded, sending in donations to an American Legion Post that agreed to collect the funds.
Even Governor Rick Scott took to social media asking for help to bring these troops home. No one imagined the money would come in so quickly.
"It is the most overwhelming feeling for us," said Marasco.
While this need has been met, if you would like to help other troops in the National Guard, you can head to the Florida National Guard Foundation http://www.floridanationalguardfoundation.org/ .