BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. – Fifteen New York National Guard volunteers joined veterans at Ellms Tree Farm on Nov. 29 to load 110 Christmas trees as part of the Trees for Troops program.
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have been loading the donated trees to give to military families and deployed troops for 17 years.
“It amazes me each and every year to see the support of our local tree farmers and the turnout of the military to help load these trees,” said Garth Ellms, the third-generation owner of Ellms Family Farm.
Ellms Family Farms serves as a collection site for Christmas trees donated by tree farmers in the Albany area.
Nationally, Trees for Troops has delivered a total of 262,265 real trees in the past 16 years. More than 16,000 trees were donated in 2020.
This year, trees will be delivered to 77 military bases, including Fort Drum and the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in New York.
The Trees for Troops program was launched in 2005, when FedEx Corp., delivered more than 4,300 Christmas trees to five U.S. military bases, as well as an overseas shipment to the Middle East.
“It was a long time ago for me, but deploying over the holidays is always a difficult time,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Wells of the New York Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion. “Having a tree was like having a piece of home.”
The Ellms Family Farm collects fresh-cut Christmas trees before pick up by Trees for Troops partners and FedEx Freight. The trees are routed through distribution centers for delivery to military bases.
Volunteers from the National Guard, both new and old, turned out to load trees to show their support for others serving away from home during the holiday season.
“I didn’t really know much about this before,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Mertzlufft, who is assigned to the National Guard Joint Force Headquarters Logistics Directorate. “But I was deployed last year and was able to return home in time for the holidays. It feels good helping out, sending trees to those deployed this year.”
This year, there are two Albany-area New York National Guard elements deployed over the holidays.
Members of the Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, are supporting the National Science Foundation’s Operation Deep Freeze research in Antarctica.
Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 501st Ordnance Battalion, an explosive ordnance disposal headquarters also based in Scotia, are in Kuwait supporting operations in the Middle East.
“Those troops serving far from home and family are the reason we do this, Ellms said. “Especially around Christmas, it’s important for us to continue doing this for them.”
“This is my first time participating,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Center, a member of the Joint Force Headquarters logistics section. “My wife is currently deployed with the 501st EOD, and I thought this would be a great way to show some support.”