While most people were just getting out of bed, individuals from Army Community Service were braving the below-freezing temperatures, staging the free Christmas trees provided for Soldiers and other service members by the Trees for Troops program, Dec. 6 in the Thunder Mountain Activity Centre parking lot.

In an effort to make the holidays a bit brighter, Trees for Troops provides farm-grown Christmas trees to armed forces members and their Families in the United States and those stationed overseas, according to their website, www.treesfortroops.org.

Sgt. Michael Conte, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, and his wife Kira were among the many people who came to pick out a tree. This was their third year receiving their tree from the program.
"You just have to have a live tree for Christmas," Conte said. "It feels pretty awesome to have these trees given to us. … We love it."

More than 30 Christmas tree farms and retail lots across the country donated this year, delivering by FedEx, one of the program's partners.

This was the third year that Fort Huachuca participated in Trees for Troops, with each year proving to be a success. At the start of the day, 138 trees were available for active duty Soldiers, E5 and below. After 3 p.m., the remaining trees were available to all military Families. However, by noon, only 50 -- 60 trees were left.

Russ Carey, Army Community Service Relocation program manager, explained why he enjoyed participating in this event. "My favorite part is watching the little kids pick out their tree," Carey said. "Watching their eyes light up, their big smiles … they are so excited."

Some of the trees had tags attached with a message from the donor, with words as simple but meaningful as "Thank you for serving."

Also braving the cold were Nita Freeman and Lonna Martinez, military spouses and American Red Cross employees. They presented each Family that picked out a tree with at least one holiday greeting card, donated by the Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

"The cards and personal messages, sent by tens of thousands of Americans, provide a welcome 'touch of home' for our troops during the holiday season," according to the Holiday Mail for Heroes website, http://www.redcross.org/support/get-involved/holiday-mail-for-heroes.