Steamboat Springs Molly Hibbard doesn't care about Thanksgiving dinner this year - she already got the best holiday treat imaginable.
Hibbard's son, Wesley Mottlau, returned safely to U.S. soil this week after a second tour of duty in Iraq.
"He's home, he's safe and he's doing great," Hibbard said Wednesday from her office at Prudential Steamboat Realty. "Everybody from his platoon lived, and we're thankful that he's safe."
It was just a year ago that Hibbard spent Thanksgiving in Fort Bragg, N.C., where she cooked a final meal for Mottlau, 27, and his platoon before they were deployed. For the past 12 months, Hibbard has prayed for Wesley's safe return.
"I'm just in seventh heaven," she said. "I'm so excited. I don't need a Thanksgiving dinner, I'm just excited that he's home and alive."
Mottlau will be de-briefed for several weeks in North Carolina, where his arrival was met with a snowstorm Tuesday. Hibbard thinks he'll return to Steamboat on Dec. 16.
But while Hibbard will sleep a little easier with the knowledge her son is back home, many other Routt County families will spend Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season without loved ones who still are deployed overseas.
Local veterinarian Mike Gotchey's daughter, Shannon, is a weapons specialist officer in the Navy.
"I haven't talked to her on the phone, but I usually get an e-mail from her once a week," Gotchey said. "They're not allowed to say where they are, but I know she is OK. She's doing what she wants."
Gotchey's communication with his daughter is solely via e-mail.
He said the Navy provided Shannon with a means for getting an education - she received a Navy scholarship to the University of Colorado, and after four years, she was called to action. Shannon is a navigator in an F-18 Super Hornet.
"I mostly just miss not being able to talk with her," Mike Gotchey said. "She's a good kid. I am pretty proud of her for doing it."
Several local groups have organized in recent years to make the lives of deployed troops - especially local ones - a little better.
Hibbard, Marci Valicenti and Lynne McNasby have been sending care packages to troops since 2002.
"Initially why we did it was because the commissaries weren't established," Valicenti said. "Everything we sent them was something they needed. As time went on, their needs changed, but we still have our guys over there and we don't want to give up on them."
At Steamboat Springs High School, students from the Future Business Leaders of America chapter set up a table at lunchtime and have been collecting donations for care packages.
Valicenti said she and her partners could use more donated items to send to troops or money to help pay for shipping and purchasing items.
"At times it's been a very emotional experience for me," Valicenti said about shopping for care-package goodies. "I've done it because, as Americans, we have people defend us, and we need to support them."
Even with her son back in the country, Hibbard said she won't stop organizing and sending care packages to troops overseas.
"These soldiers are fighting for our freedom," she said. "I think what these soldiers are doing is keeping the U.S. safe, and they're doing a lot of great things over there."
Anyone interested in donating money or items to send to the troops are encouraged to call Valicenti at 879-5000 or Hibbard at 879-8100. Items also can be dropped off at Prudential Steamboat Realty.