Debra Swallow of Bangs, who was among the first to arrive Saturday afternoon at the Military and Family Support Group’s distribution center at Heartland Mall, had hoped that her son Tommy Lawson would be home for Christmas.

Lawson had enlisted in the U.S. Marines just after graduating from Brookesmith High School in 2002, and was discharged after four years of honorable service in Japan, South Korea, Kuwait and Iraq. But after being ordered back into uniform earlier this year, Lawson is now in Kansas waiting for his expected orders to ship out to San Diego, and then Iraq.

“We’re hoping he’ll still be in the states at Christmas,” Swallow said as she picked up a box of holiday gifts compiled by volunteers and supporters of the Military and Family Support Group here. “All we can do right now is pray.”

Swallow spent a few minutes filling out a form for the group so it can document his service for others in the community. Swallow said this is the first time she has listed her son with the group, and sounded as though she has some regret about having the opportunity to do so now — especially since she thought Lawson had completed his military service.

“Thomas is his formal name, but we call him Tommy,” Swallow said. “He’s a chief diesel mechanic.” It’s a skill that should provide him with a good career as a civilian, but that’s on hold right now.

Swallow, who was carrying with her a framed 8x10 portrait of her son in uniform, said her son was told he should be prepared to serve for up to 18 more months.

While Swallow was a new participant, most of the family members picking up boxes were familiar faces to support group volunteers Lisa Flood, Joyce Leidig and Babs Shields. For more than two hours Saturday afternoon, they stayed busy checking off names and gathering boxes for the Brown County family members of military personnel serving both overseas and stateside, but they still paused long enough to hug and ask about sons, daughters and spouses.

And this was after they had spent a hectic morning in the vacant Heartland Mall site filling the boxes with hard candy, travel-size toiletries, packaged sweets, books, notepads and Texas souvenirs.

Leidig said anything with the word “Texas” has proven a hit in the previous years their group has spearheaded this holiday project.

“Everyone’s getting one of these ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ decals,” Leidig said, holding one up.

Also included in the boxes are cards and letters of support written by children, another popular item.

One family in line brought its service women with them. Katrina Brown of Brownwood is home on leave from Fort Hood, having enlisted in August 2006. She expects to be deploying for Afghanistan with her armored company soon.

Amy Wellmon, director of Redstone Park Retirement and Assisted Living Center, came with two of her five children to pick up a box for her husband, Jimmy. The staff sergeant is serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army after being on active duty for 17 years. It’s his second tour after being called up with the local National Guard unit in 2004. After serving there for a year, and being away from his family for 18 months, he volunteered for a return assignment.

“We’ll be at commissioners court at 9 a.m. Monday asking the county to declare Brown County red,” Wellmon told Leidig and Shields. Red T-shirts were designed for Redstone’s fall festival that expressed support for the military, and Wellmon and others on her staff are taking the campaign to the community, urging people to wear red on Fridays to signal support of the armed forces. City councils in Brownwood and Early have previously voted to declare Fridays as Red Shirt Day.

“God bless,” Leidig said as a family left the counter after picking up a box.