FLORENCE, Texas -- Kindergartners at Florence Elementary School here listened keenly as a Fort Hood, Texas general read the world's oldest Christmas poem.
Reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was embraced by Brig. Gen. William D. "Hank" Taylor, a career combat aviator, who started out as an enlisted Soldier in the Field Artillery before commissioning as an Infantry second lieutenant.
Taylor, who commands the U.S. Army Operational test Command, said he entered the school library early to practice, making sure he could read without his glasses.
"I've read it for years to my kids and my own grandkids," he said.
"Family is really important to myself, personally, but also to the Army," he continued.
"This really means a lot to me as a commander to be able to come down and share a little bit of time with the kids and families here in Florence and let them know how much we appreciate them and how much they do to support us and the military at Fort Hood."
School Principal Kay Bradford said she always appreciates OTC Soldiers on campus.
"To see those smiles on those kiddos' faces will lighten you up and warm your heart," she said.
"When the general was reading to the kids, they were in awe. Watching their little eyes light up listening to him. Plus five for him. He did a great job."
It was Taylor's first visit with the children since settling in as commander of OTC in September.
"They're young, they've got a great life ahead of them," Taylor said of the students.
"Hopefully they can see -- maybe -- some of my Soldiers that are here today as examples of what hard work does to pay off."
Bradford said she only met Taylor briefly.
"But I'll tell you what -- it's a big to-do when you have a general walking with you and coming around on our campus," she said.
"That was a surprise for us, like a cherry on top of ice cream."
The principal said her school's partnership with OTC under Fort Hood's Adopt-a-School program makes a big difference.
"Those Soldiers on our campus building relationships with the kids is the best part," she said.
"It takes all of us," she added. "It takes every one of us to help grow these babies."
Santa accompanied Taylor, played by Col. Brian J. McHugh, OTC's Maneuver Test Directorate director, who is in charge of testing Armor, Infantry, and robotic systems as well as individual and crew served weapon systems.
During May, OTC reached top honors in Fort Hood's Adopt-A-School program with 760 volunteer hours.
The program supports nine Central Texas school districts containing 115 schools partnered with Fort Hood units.
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
As the Army's only independent operational tester, USAOTC tests Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. USAOTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer -- the American Soldier.