FORT BLISS, Texas - Families were lined up a the entrance of the Trading Post here, waiting for the time to tick down to 5 p.m., when the velvet rope at the front of the queue would be lowered and hundreds of children would surge ahead into an indoor, winter wonderland.
Most people remember the classic movie "A Christmas Story" from their childhoods. The Morale, Welfare and Recreation Holiday Festival used the movie as its theme, including snowball fights and a simulated ice skating rink with roller skates that only had two wheels. Families from the Fort Bliss and El Paso areas experienced the venue for free.
Images and quotes from the movie lined the walls, and the smell of hot cocoa and fresh-made doughnuts, generously supplied by sponsors, filled the air. All around, children ran or dragged parents to the next vendor for free cookies, hot cider or occasionally, a small toy.
The MWR, however, could not have put the festival together without help, so the call went out and Lt. Col. Tamara McClendon, 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, and her Soldiers volunteered.
"Fourteen of our Soldiers volunteered to support the MWR and the Holiday Festival," said McClendon, a native of El Paso, Texas. "This is a tremendous event to be a part of. The 32nd AAMDC has been so busy with training and deployments, and this is a welcome break from all that."
Also at the festival, Family Readiness Groups represented their Fort Bliss units by offering games and prizes. Although primarily there to raise money for their unit's FRG, the volunteers were more than happy to let children have extra turns at either throwing artificial snowballs into a three-holed snowman or making their own miniature Olaf snowman from the Disney movie "Frozen."
"We're down her to raise money for our unit Christmas party," said Margaret VanHassel, a member of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 43rd Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th Air Defense Artillery Family Readiness Group. "We really just want everyone to have a great time here, and if we raise some money for Battery C, then mores the better."
As the night moved on, pictures with Santa Claus and Princess Anna from "Frozen" were taken with giddy children while smiling parents watched from the side of the photo area. By 8 p.m., the hot drinks and an overindulgence of desserts were perhaps the culprits for numerous yawns and rubbing of tired little eyes.
At 9 p.m., the Trading Post closed its doors and turned out its lights, another successful Holiday Festival in the bag, so to speak. In the end, it was about bringing families and friends together to enjoy the holidays with each other.