FORT HOOD, Texas - Four-year-old Zoey Powell and 7-year-old Westen Zwally joined the III Armored Corps and Fort Hood command team to pull a red candy cane lever and add red, white and blue lighting to the Central Texas sky during the installation’s annual tree lighting ceremony here Dec. 2.
The pair of youngsters selected to assist Lt. Gen. Sean C. Bernabe and Command Sgt. Maj. Cliff Burgoyne were chosen through a social media contest by Fort Hood Family Housing.
“The real VIPs we just introduced,” Bernabe said of the children, “and I tell you what, they are going to be the stars of the show.”
Before lighting the tree, though, the general gave the two children and members of his command team “III Armored Corps blue” holiday hats trimmed in white with a white tassel.
After the standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 counted down from ten, the children pulled the lever, lighting up more than 9,000 bulbs on the electric tree. The turnout was a welcome sight, as last year’s attendance was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions in place.
“I’m happy to see this large of a crowd, and to see us all back together again,” Col. Chad R. Foster, commander, U.S. Army Garrison - Fort Hood, said in his opening remarks. “The challenges of the last few years … by a global pandemic and all the necessary mitigation measures associated with that caused us to put a hold on a lot of the really important gatherings, engagements and other traditions that we have done for years … not only with each other here inside the gates of our installation, but also with the community outside that have supported us so well for so long.”
Lineah Skoog, spouse of Sgt. Michael Skoog from the 20th Engineer Battalion, said the ceremony made it feel like the holiday season was “officially” upon the Fort Hood community.
“It feels like it, yeah,” she said. The couple came to the event with their two children, Declan, 8, and Maerin, 4, to listen to their daughter Grace, 10, perform with the Meadows Elementary School “Melody Makers” Choir.
The choir, made up of fourth and fifth graders from the school, performed two holiday tunes during the event: “Winter Fantasy” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
In addition to musical selections performed by the choir, all joined in during the event to sing “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls” and welcomed in Kris Kringle, who arrived on a Fort Hood Fire Department fire engine, with “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
Everyone followed Santa into the building where he set up shop for the children in the East Atrium and refreshments were served in the West Atrium of the headquarters.
With Christmas less than three weeks away, one question remained for the Skoog family: Have they completed their holiday shopping yet?
“Not yet, but we’re pretty close” Lineah, who handles nearly all of this holiday task, said. Husband Michael only has to buy for one person — his wife.
“I have not bought for her yet,” he said with a slight grimace, though in keeping with the holiday cheer of the event, Lineah just giggled.