By David VergunDecember 23, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- Soldiers in the U.S. and the many Soldiers serving overseas from Kuwait to Kosovo are getting into the holiday spirit.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley sent his holiday remarks to the American Forces Network: "We thank every Soldier, civilian and family member for all you do to protect our country and our way of life. From our family to your family, we want to wish each of you a safe and blessed holiday season."
His wife, Hollyanne Milley, added: "We also want to remember all of our deployed Soldiers who are making daily sacrifices for our great nation."
Hundreds of deployed troops and U.S. civilians picked up trash on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, during an organized cleanup in advance of the holidays, Dec. 16.
Area Support Group-Kuwait hosted the cleanup, dubbed Operation Flying Debris by Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew C. Erickson, the senior enlisted leader of the unit.
"We need to take pride and ownership of what we do on this post and throughout the Middle East," said Master Sgt. Marvin Curtis, a cleanup coordinator and the resiliency noncommissioned officer in charge with the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater).
Also contributing to the cleanup were more than 50 civilian volunteers from the Mormon Helping Hands organization. The organization provided troops and other volunteers with T-shirts as participation awards.
"We were blessed to have U.S. citizens come and help a U.S. military installation pick up," Curtis said. "We got a lot of trash picked up. We set a good example and maybe a pace for something we could do semiannually. I think everyone here had a good time."
The Operation Flying Debris mission wasn't just about disposing of trash. Soldiers also separated recyclable materials from the waste they found during the cleanup.
Curtis said recycling at Camp Arifjan not only helps the environment but also helps pay for extracurricular activities for Soldiers like morale and welfare recreation events and tours in Kuwait City, which provide Soldiers with the opportunity to increase their cultural awareness.
At the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's Redstone Arsenal headquarters, employees paused Dec. 15 to enjoy some holiday cheer.
The day began with children's activities and a visit with Santa, followed by a program that included an ugly sweater contest, a salute to Soldiers, with the room singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and the announcement of holiday decorations winners. Employees then gathered for potluck lunches on each floor.
Also in Alabama, just outside Huntsville, Army Contracting Command employees purchased, donated and wrapped gifts for first-grade students at Louis J. Morris Elementary School as part of the Angel Tree Program.
The Angel Tree Program provides new gifts and toys to thousands of children who might otherwise not receive gifts for Christmas. ACC delivered the gifts Dec. 15 to Morris Elementary, their Adopt-A-School partner, for the second year in a row.
"This is something we look forward to doing. This is also what the holiday season is about," said Keith Jackson, ACC chief of staff. "It's a season to give rather than receive, and it's a joy we look forward to -- to come out and bring gifts to these children."
On Dec. 17, Kosovo children from the musical group "Gajmor" serenaded Soldiers and their NATO allies during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Camp Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny, Kosovo. The children, supported by Kosovar Youth Council, were presented with a check for 1,000 Euros and a certificate of appreciation.
In an effort to remember and honor the interred veterans at the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery, Brig. Gen. Richard B. Dix, commander, Joint Munitions Command, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, served as the keynote speaker during the National Wreath Across America Day Ceremony, Dec. 17.
The Wreaths Across America program began in 1992, when holiday wreaths were placed at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Each December, volunteers around the nation coordinate wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington and more than 1,100 other locations across the 50 states. Approximately 350,000 wreaths are provided nationwide.
About 300 wreaths were distributed at the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery. Some of the wreaths were donated through the program, while others were purchased by Family members to place on the graves of their loved ones.
"Every wreath we place is a visible symbol of the sacred promise to remember our veterans, to honor their memories, and to pay them back, for the sacrifices they made for us," Dix said.
Approximately 32,000 people are buried at the RIA National Cemetery, noted Sue Jehlen, cemetery director. "No veteran should be forgotten," she said. "To me, it's about their legacies and remembering them. If you walk around, you see there are stories behind each headstone."
"Today, let us recommit ourselves to preserving the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation and to the veterans who served in war or peace," she concluded.
While some Soldiers were celebrating the holidays early, others were still involved in rigorous training.
One such group were paratroopers assigned to 2nd Battalion 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. They and allies from five other nations took part in a German Mountain Warfare Course in Seinsbach Gorge, Mittenwald, Germany from Dec. 5 to 16.
During the course, Soldiers trained on tasks such as conducting patrols in a mountainous environment, resting in a snow shelter, rock climbing and roping down a rock face.
Participating troops came from Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and the U.S., as the 173rd Airborne Brigade is currently conducting training as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Lexie Alexander was only 1 year old when her father, 2nd Lt. Tobias Alexander, was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. On Dec. 11, four years later, she joined her half-sister Angel, 11, and half- brother Kevin, 9 for a ceremonial sendoff, an event created specifically for Gold Star children -- the Snowball Express.
The nonprofit organization was formed in 2006 to "provide hope and new happy memories to the children of military fallen while on active duty since 9/11." The five-day event was filled with activities meant to help children share their feelings with others who have also lost a military parent.
In addition to their visit to the Fort Worth Stockyards, complete with a parade and Santa, the children were treated to a concert by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band and took part in a balloon release that symbolized sending their prayers and love to their lost parents.
On Dec. 11, service members from Eighth Army and their Families attended the ninth annual Korean-American Friendship Holiday Concert at the Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, South Korea. During the event, the sounds of classic American Christmas carols, scores of operas, and Korean Army cadences filled the concert hall as musicians and performers from two nations performed for a crowd of thousands.
The event featured members of the Eighth Army Band, the Prima Donna Ensemble and the Korean Military Choir. A variety of holiday songs were sung during the concert, including "Last Christmas" and "Jingle Bell Rock," along with several South Korean Army cadences sung by the Korean Military Choir, among them "The Torch of Defeating Enemy" and "A Wonderful Man."
"Music, like our friendship, is one of the greatest gifts we can share during the holidays," Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, commanding general of the Eighth Army, told the Korean attendees, performers and musicians during the concert's opening remarks.
"The sharing of your hospitality with so many of our Soldiers that are away from their families during the holidays means a great deal to us."
The concert was free to all service members and their Families, more than 1,500 of whom attended, alongside more than 1,000 Korean civilians.
The community of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, gathered to celebrate giving during the 36th annual St. Nick Benefit Ceremony Tuesday at the 43rd Adjutant Battalion Grant Hall Auditorium.
Thanks to donations made at the event, which was sponsored by the Fort Leonard Wood Lions Club in conjunction with Army Community Service, more than 830 underprivileged children and special needs adults will receive Christmas gifts. Following the ceremony, the foyer of Grant Hall was filled with hundreds of gifts awaiting distribution to various units and organizations.
Ceremony attendees listened to holiday music performed by the 399th Army Band, the Fort Leonard Wood Child Development Center Strong Beginnings Pre-K, and the Waynesville High School Junior ROTC choir. Santa and Mrs. Claus were even on hand to pass out candy canes and greet the children.
Col. Tracy Lanier, Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, thanked the installation for making the benefit a reality for area children.
"Today is about opening our hearts and celebrating the true meaning behind this holiday season: giving back to our community," Lanier said.
"This event provides holiday gifts to everyone in the area who otherwise may go without a Christmas gift, so that is exactly what it is all about."
The XVIII Airborne Corps paratroopers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, along with members of the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club, organized a Wreaths Across America event Dec. 17, at the Sand Hills State Veteran's Cemetery in Spring Lake, North Carolina. The purpose of the event was to honor the service of fallen service members.
In the weeks preceding the event, the motorcycle club collected funds for the more than 5,000 wreaths that were placed at Sand Hills Cemetery. A combination of Soldiers, club members and other volunteers collected the wreaths and transported them by way of motorcade to the cemetery on the morning of the event.
Sgt. 1st. Class Jean Mott, one of the event's organizers and a XVIII Airborne Corps Soldier, said her participation in the nationwide event was personal.
"My nephew was actually killed in Afghanistan, and he's buried right here at Sand Hill," Mott explained. "I started working on this event the year after I escorted him home. Every year it seems to increase in popularity, and that's a great example of remembrance."
Operation Toy drop also took place Dec. 9 at Fort Bragg. Hundreds of paratroopers had the opportunity to earn foreign jump wings while helping children in the community.
More than 6,000 toys were donated this year. Participating nations sending jumpmasters included Botswana, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Singapore.
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)
Editor's note: Contributing to this article were Carrie E. David, public affairs officer, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command; Spc. Adeline Witherspoon, public affairs, Kosovo Forces; Tony Lopez, public affairs officer, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois; Staff Sgt. Anthony Johnson, public affairs, 503rd Infantry Regiment; Cindy McIntyre, public affairs officer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Giselle Lyons, public affairs, Army Contracting Command; Sgt. Jang Il-Hwan, Eighth Army public affairs; Derek Gean, public affairs officer, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Sgt. Angela Lorden, U.S. Army Central Command public affairs; Pfc. Hubert D. Delany III, XVIII Corps public affairs.