FORT McPHERSON, Ga. - In the season of giving, members of the Fort McPherson community took time Dec. 11 to remember and honor Georgia servicemembers who gave all in support of freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. Respect was rendered via the dedication of a Soldiers' Tree ceremony.

During the ceremony, the tree, located near the flag pole on Hedekin Field, was decorated with red ribbons for each servicemember who died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"We dedicate the Soldiers' Tree you see before you to our fallen comrades and to keep alive the memory of the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country," said Col. Deborah B. Grays, U.S. Army Garrison commander. "Through ceremonies such as this, we ensure that these Soldiers live on in our hearts and our prayers."

Symbolism was rich in the ceremony, which honored 162 fallen servicemembers from all branches of the service, as pointed out by Chap. (Capt.) Brad Godding, deputy garrison chaplain.

"We gather at a time and season when the symbolism of holidays is prevalent in our lives," he said. "May these symbols of red ribbons, an evergreen and lights be consecrated unto this purpose. Red ribbons as a symbol of the precious blood that was shed in unselfish love of country; an evergreen (as) the symbol of freedom that continues to live on generation to generation and lights that shine throughout history to remind us that where there is darkness, the light brings freedom."

To help his children gain a better understanding of that freedom, Air Force Staff Sgt. John Ashliman, a security policeman with the 94th Securtiy Force Squadron, attended the event with his wife, Danielle, and three children: daughters Kiara, 6, and Lyla, 4, and son, Ivan, 2.

"They enjoy the freedom that others die for," he said of his reason for bringing his children. In addition, he and his wife also got books out of the Post Library dealing with deployment to help their children further understand sacrifices made by military Families. As for himself, Ashliman said it was important as one of the few Airmen stationed on post to represent his branch of service.

"I had to go out and represent. There would be Airmen who were called out," he said. The five all took a turn placing a ribbon onto the tree during the ceremony, in which all 162 names were read off. Upon the recitation of a name, those in attendance would take a ribbon and tie it to the tree.

In honoring the sacrifices of those killed in duty, Danielle, an Air Force veteran, said it brought back memories of sacrifices she remembered while stationed overseas in Saudi Arabia.

"I was there for 9/11 in Saudi Arabia," she said. "After 9/11 it was all about being ready. We started wearing our flak vests and carrying weapons everywhere."

Today, Grays said almost 250,000 Soldiers are making similar sacrifices: shouldering their weapons, equipment and the American ideal of freedom. "Every day our fellow Soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places far from home are prepared to put mission, unit and country first," she said. "There is a reason they call what Soldiers do service."

Overall, she said servicemembers are deployed in more than 120 countries in support of combat, peacekeeping and deterrence operations. "They are helping keep the peace and providing humanitarian relief around the globe.

Just as earlier generations answered the call of duty, our brave Soldiers are committed to their mission. They are steadfast in their belief that their country - and the entire world - will be safer and more prosperous thanks to their efforts." Grays also took time to thank the Families supporting servicemembers, who likewise sacrifice much. "As we remember our fallen comrades, let us continue to support, embrace and pray for their Families and friends.

These courageous people, from all walks of life, have also made the ultimate sacrifice," she said. "These American Families have watched their husbands, wives, sons and daughters go off to war never return."

Page last updated Fri December 18th, 2009 at 11:28