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GIs Take Her Hugs Into Battle Zone

It's a somber sense of duty that brings Paulette Nelson to Warrior's Walk at Fort Stewart, Ga. -- a quiet, tree-lined memorial dedicated to fallen soldiers.

The soldiers at Fort Stewart are Paulette's extended family -- a big responsibility for a busy, stay-at-home mom.

Early Show contributor Flavia Colgan introduced viewers to this extraordinary person on Wednesday.

"When Sept. 11 happened, I saw the sacrifice (the troops) had to make," Paulette told Colgan. "I saw, firsthand, them leaving their families behind. ... I just felt like I'd never done anything to show my appreciation. ... I knew it was time for me to do something and give back."

So, in 2004, Paulette became a USO volunteer. Her job? Personally greeting soldiers going to or coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

She meets them at the airport or the military airfield and gives each soldier a clap, a handshake, sometimes a hug.

Four hundred flights and four years later, she's still committed.

"I'm there when they leave and I'm there when they come back," Paulette says. "I call that, completing the circle."

"People ask me," she continued, " 'How do you do this? You don't get paid and it takes away your time?' And all I can say is, 'How can you not do it? How can you really just let them go over there and do what they do and not support them? ' "

Paulette even gets her kids involved.

Twelve-year-old Will and ten-year-old Madison have found ways to support the troops, such as standing by the side of the highway waving flags to soldiers en route from the airfield to the base.

Paulette's husband, Bill, says he feels "100 percent" like he married a hero.

Her dedication convinced him they, as a family, could do even more for the troops. So, a few years ago, Bill built houses on their property that they rent to soldiers they've taken under their wing.

"This is like a little getaway for them, like a little resort," he says.

"It's really taken a burden off of us and, out here, we can relax," says Staff Sgt. Mike Adkins, who's served three tours in Iraq.

He says the Nelson family has given him a new sense of belonging: "Bill's one of my best friends, and Paulette's like my big sister, and I can't replace them with anything. This is my new family, and I love them."

With two tours in Iraq under his belt, Cpl. Joshua Kampert believes the Nelsons help him to be a better soldier. "There's nothing I can't go to Paulette and Bill for and they'll say 'No' to," Kampert says. "As long as I know they got my back, and she's going to be the last person I see when I go and I'm going to come back to this again, I'll keep going."

Colgan remarked to Paulette that the soldiers are "regular guys doing something extraordinary," to which Paulette responded, "Absolutely."

"But," Colgan continued, "I see you as a hero like that, a regular woman doing something incredible."

"No," Paulette insisted. "I'm an ordinary person who was given an extraordinary chance."

An ordinary person, Colgan observes, with an incredible sense of duty and gratitude.

"Isn't that all we want to do as a human -- is make a difference?" asked a tearful Paulette.

She wants people to know that it doesn't take a lot to support the troops -- what they really appreciate is a letter or postcard from home.

And -- Colgan noted -- Thursday is Paulette's birthday!
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