<b>FORT STEWART, Ga.</b> Soldiers, Family Members and others from the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield community gathered at Club Stewart for the annual tree lighting ceremony, Dec. 2 and at Hunter Club, Dec. 6.
Major General Tony Cucolo, commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Ashmen, the 3rd ID command sergeant major, led the evening's festivities at Stewart and Hunter.
The tree ceremonies were just the beginning of the events, which were designed for the children of the installation.
With the tree lighting ceremonies symbolically starting the holiday season on Stewart-Hunter, Maj. Gen. Cucolo wanted to make sure that even with all the Soldiers coming home, everyone remembered that there are still 3rd ID Soldiers deployed.
"In a modular Army, the division that I grew up in, one that trains, deploys and returns together, is no more," said Maj. Gen. Cucolo. "Now the division headquarters deploys on its own, the brigades deploy on their own, so you can end up at a post where everyone is on a different deployment timeline.
"We are in a period where so many thousands are coming home. What I did not want to be lost as thousands are coming home and the signs are up in town saying 'welcome home,' is that there are about 6,000 Families whose Soldiers will not be home until April or July. So, to light the tree I asked to have a very visible, symbolic representation of 'let's not forget, we still have Soldiers in harm's way.'"
To do so, at the Stewart ceremony, Maj. Gen. Cucolo asked Jenny Lopez-Guerrero and her daughters Isabelle and Jessica, to help him and Command Sgt. Maj. Ashmen flip the switch to light the tree. Mrs. Lopez-Guerrero and her daughters are the wife and children of 1st Lt. Daniel Lopez-Guerrero, executive officer for Company E, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, who is currently deployed to Iraq.
Isabelle Lopez-Guerrero enjoyed flipping the switch to turn on the tree's lights. It was exciting to stand in front of all of those people and flip the lever, she said.
Following the tree lightings, everyone was invited to join in the rest of the activities held inside Club Stewart and Hunter Club. Rooms within Club Stewart and Hunter Club were transformed into a post office where children could write letters to Santa, a gift shop where they could help wrap presents, and a snow house with cotton "snow" for the kids to play in. The main ballroom was turned into Santa's house where kids could sit on Santa's lap and slide down an inflatable slide in to a large pile of "snow."
The parking lot at the clubs contained even more activities. There was a dance recital by a local ballet school and Christmas movies shown on a projector screen as well as funnel cakes and baked goods for purchase.
Major General Cucolo said that seeing all the Families and children at the ceremony energized him and he is happy to be here this holiday season.
"It is the season of giving, but I am standing among those who give so much everyday, the Army Family," said Maj. Gen. Cucolo. "I am humbled to be among them. I am energized by them and would not want to be anywhere else."