FORT STEWART-HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - Hundreds of children, young and old, could not be dissuaded by the cool evening air as they gathered outside Club Stewart for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting, Dec. 3.

As the growing crowd anxiously counted down the minutes to the 5:30 p.m. lighting, Pam Rayman, senior budget analyst, led them in singing a number of Christmas favorites with help from Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, deputy commanding general-rear, who offered a few remarks before allowing scores of children to assist him in lighting the tree.

Brigadier General Phillips and Rayman's musical talents were supported by other senior leaders and their wives, including Ginger Cucolo, wife of 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo; Frankie Andrews, wife of 3rd ID Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Andrews; Col. Kevin Milton, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander; Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Ashmen, command sergeant major-rear; Command Sgt. Maj. James Ervin, Stewart-Hunter garrison command sergeant major; and Linda Heifferon, director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

While wearing his "Santa" hat, Command Sgt. Maj. Ervin joined the two-dozen Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation "elves," who marched around the big tree clapping and singing with the children and their parents. The Liberty County High School chorus was also on-hand to provide special, more rehearsed vocal arrangements of the season.Caleb Deitz, age 23 months, son of Pfc. Dieter Deitz, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, and his wife, Heather, didn't understand what all the singing and excitement was about, but his happy little smile said he was having a good time.

When the appointed moment arrived, Brig. Gen. Phillips invited any child who wanted to help him light the tree, which caused a stampede of little feet racing toward the large green lever used to turn on the Christmas tree lights.

With the tree lit and the crowd cheering, news about the arrival of Santa Claus soon had the children excited all over again. When Santa arrived by a horse-drawn, not reindeer-drawn sleigh, he was quickly whisked through the crowd and inside Club Stewart, where a serpentine line of parents with children wanting to speak to the jolly fat elf formed. Those not waiting in line to meet Santa in the main ballroom now called "North Pole," could choose from six other rooms, each colorfully decorated for the season, including "Sleigh Bells Ring - Are You Listening," "In The Lane, Snow is Glistening," "We'll Frolic & Play," "As We Dream By the Fire," "Here to Stay is a New Bird," and "We'll Build a Snowman."

"Snow fairy" Dawn Fegel, FMWR, played with several little ones in the "We'll Frolic & Play" room, including 17-month-old Gavin Williams, who looked to his mom, Jillian Williams, as if he was unsure whether to run to her or play in the make-believe snow.

Meanwhile, Stevie Grace Barber, 3, seemed unsure about sitting in Santa's lap and had to be persuaded by her older brother Grant, 4, who sat on Santa's other knee while parents Shannon and Pfc. Kevin Barber, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor, looked on.

By this point, the line to see Santa wound around a series of turns inside the main ballroom before leading outside and into the parking lot.

More than 2,700 people attended the Hunter Christmas Tree Lighting at Hunter Club, Dec. 7.

According to Larry Cutchens, FMWR event coordinator, it was the largest turnout at Hunter in the FMWR history. Brigadier General Phillips presented awards to five groups that are sponsoring military Families this year, including the Savannah Board of Realtors, Habersham YMCA, Savannah Regional Central Labor Council, Red Hat Ladies Society and Georgia Power Company.

Also, representatives from the Sun City Veterans retirement community were on hand to present a check to the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Chaplains' Tithes and Offerings Fund. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Robert J. Hearn presented them with a letter of appreciation for their generous donations and support throughout the year.

Yolanda Hingel, Army Community Services, and FMWR elves led children in Christmas songs before the tree lighting. The Hunter Club was decorated in its finest Christmas attire, and children and their parents enjoyed cookies, punch, photos with Santa, crafts while they listened to Christmas music.

The next FMWR event, the Holiday Hayride, will begin at 6 p.m., Friday at Stewart and 6 p.m. Saturday at Hunter. The hayride, which will take riders on a tour of the community's Christmas lights, cost $5 per Family. For more information, call 767-9884 or 315-9554.