By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)December 14, 2018
Patriots Park was brought back to light just after the sun set Dec. 7 when the post lit its Christmas tree during this year's annual Fort Jackson Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony.
Brig. Gen. Milford H. "Beags" Beagle Jr., Fort Jackson commander, enlisted the help of the Family of the Year to do the honors.
The Conley Family -- Staff Sgt. Ronald Conley, wife Jade and their two kids, Addy, 10, and Annabelle, 12 -- was named Fort Jackson Family of the Year last month.
Before the lighting, Beagle spoke to the community off the cuff.
"I had some prepared remarks," he said, but added, "sometimes you've just got to let your heart do the talking … If I don't say something that needs to be said, charge it to my head and not to my heart."
He said he wanted to make it quick because he was "the only thing standing between (the kids) and Santa."
He commended the Fort Jackson community and thanked members for their support.
"Regardless of how you celebrate the holidays … when somebody gives you a hug, when somebody gives you a smile, return that," Beagle advised. "We're very fortunate to do what we do to defend this great nation."
The tree lighting was another way volunteers were able to get involved in the community.
Park decorating began weeks before.
The Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the Directorate of Public Works, and Post Detail all played roles.
Angie Russ, a Columbia, South Carolina native and parks and trails manager at Fort Jackson said final preparations began Nov. 20.
This was Russ's third year on decoration detail. She is a landscaper by trade.
"I just love what the spirit brings … what it does for our troops and Families," Russ said.
The tree takes the longest to set up, she said. "We have to have a lift to get into (the tree)," she added.
Prior to the ceremony, The 282nd Army Band and the Child, Youth & School Services choir performed. "Frosty the Snowman," "Twelve Days of Christmas," and "Jingle Bells" were on the evening's playlist.
Dr. Kezia Curry, wife of Chap. (Maj.) Randall Curry, was the guest vocalist.
She sang "Grown-Up Christmas List"
Kids played games, jumped in bounce houses, made arts and crafts and frolicked in fake snow -- slipping, sliding, making snow angels and having snowball fights.
The "snow" was created using an instant snow mix and water. It's close enough to the real deal that in Japan, it's used for indoor winter sports.
One local Fort Jackson artist sculpted a Christmas tree out of ice for the occasion.
Colin Henderson of Fort Jackson's marketing division does ice sculpting as a side job. He has been practicing for seven years.
After the live demo, he rushed off to a surrounding community event to make another masterpiece.
Kids filled up on snacks, and the evening ended with more candy provided by Santa and Mrs. Claus, who showed up for a visit.