'Trees for Troops' starts the spirit of seasonal giving
December 2, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Arnold Palmer IV was dressed rather appropriately for receiving his first Christmas tree.
The 3-month-old son of Airman 1st Class Arnold Palmer III and his wife Amanda, was bundled in a warm Santa suit, ready for the first Christmas milestone in his life.
The Palmers and Sgt. Rodrick Antoine were the first servicemembers to pick out their free Family Christmas trees as part of the fifth annual "Trees for Troops" program kickoff ceremony Dec. 2 at the Northwest Adventure Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
More than 600 trees were donated by Christmas Tree Association growers around the country to JBLM for distribution to Soldiers and Airmen.
Since 2005, the Christmas SPIRIT foundation's "Trees for Troops" program partners with FedEx every year to provide trees to more than 16,000 troops stationed at 45 U.S. military installations and other overseas locations including Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, said FedEx spokesman Steve Hank.
"We haul 16,000 trees to bring much-needed cheer to the members of our armed forces," Hank said.
The first installment of 315 trees delivered to the NAC originated from Snowshoe Evergreen Inc. in Orting, Wash., on behalf of a consortium of tree farms in the area.
Soldiers and Airmen, as well as Marines, Coastguardsmen and Sailors, will receive a variety of eight to 10-foot spruce or fir trees.
"We love to honor the troops with a Christmas tree and provide the chance to show appreciation to the troops," Hank said.
Soldiers from the 47th Combat Support Hospital moved the trees off the truck and stacked them against a nearby fence line before the ceremony started.
The voluntary task on a cold day was a little easier because one of their own, Sgt. Rodrick Antoine, was among the first tree recipients.
Antoine's wife, Tanisha, and two daughters, Zriyah, 5, and Kennedy, 5 months, were not able to attend, but Rodrick was anxious to show off the big surprise.
"It will be my daughter's first Christmas, so she will just smile at anything, and just be happy to see this big tree," he said.
"My wife will be grateful, of course, because we don't have to go out and get a tree now and it's just going to be fun to decorate it together; it's all family time, you know."
Antoine and Palmer were recommended by their senior leadership to Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Barnes, JBLM Garrison command sergeant major, who dispensed the vouchers for the free trees.
Both Lewis and McChord units offered the trees to deserving young enlisted Families, said Master Sgt. Thomas Pickerel.
Choice Christmas trees purchased at local farms or stores can cost more than $100 in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
Baby Arnold's parents were visibly thrilled to be selected to be the first to get a tree, and not just because it was free.
A Better Opportunities for Single Servicemembers representative dressed like Santa Claus stood with the Palmers next to elves to give a unique twist to Arnold's first Christmas photo with Santa.
Palmer, assigned to the 62nd Maintenance Squadron, said that being from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., snow hasn't been a part of Christmas until now.
"I'm not really ready for the snow," Palmer said, "but it's a really good feeling to be chosen."
Servicemembers with vouchers in hand can stop by the NAC through Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., to pick up their trees, said Laura Lad, director of outdoor recreation.
For the past five years, "Trees for Troops" has been one of Lad's favorite programs she's been part of, and what better time than Christmas to give away stuff.
"It's been very successful and a lot of people enjoy it," Lad said, "and it's too bad we only get 600 trees, being a large command. But hey, that's ok, something is better than nothing."
During the season, servicemembers shop at the NAC complex with Christmas music in the background and complimentary hot cup of coffee and cookies in their hands.
The staff treat "Trees for Troops" like a professional tree farm operation, including having the trees trimmed, their stumps sawed off, and even loaded into vehicles.
"There are spouses whose husbands are deployed, so we'll fix it up for them and help them get on their way," Lad said.
America's Credit Union kept the gift-giving mood alive by donating $30,000 among four base organizations from its recent Annual Holiday Troop Support Golf tournament fundraiser.
Representatives from the Madigan Foundation, Santa's Castle, Army Community Services Food Basket Program and Reflection Park Fund each received $7,500.
The Northwest Adventure Center is located on Lewis North at Building 8050 on NCO Beach Road. For more information, call 967-8282 or 967-7744.
Lorin T. Smith: email@example.com