Dec. 7, 2007 -- The U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., believes that especially during the holiday season, it is in the spirit of the Army Family Covenant to reach out, not just to Army families, but to extend good will to the local community.
For more than 52 years, Soldiers at Carlisle Barracks have been hosting the "Annual Holiday Tea," providing a chance for senior citizens to feel welcomed into their Army family.
"This is an honor for me to meet these people. Not only that, but I have a chance to brighten the day for people in my community. So many of the people we escort are veterans or have family members who served and I know they've sacrificed a great deal. It's a small thing, for me to do and only one day a year, but it does means a lot to me to talk to them, to learn their history and thank them personally," said Navy Cmdr. John Eden, USAWC student.
For many volunteers participating in the Holiday Tea, it was a chance to put into action the values of military service.
"To me, the Army Family Covenant is extending ourselves beyond our own family, to include those in the community who may not have much to look forward to," said Sgt. George Frame Jr, a volunteer at the Holiday Tea. "We understand that some people may not have a family to be with at Christmas or it's very hard for them to get out and experience some family entertainment."
This two-day event requires at least 300 volunteers to escort guests from local nursing and retirement homes to the Letort View Community Center. Students, their spouses, children, faculty and staff all come together to take on the incredibly rewarding mission of providing food, gifts, entertainment and decorations.
Florence Stone from the Claremont Home enjoyed her day out escorted by a USAWC student, Marine Lt. Col. Jim Glynn.
"It's just so nice to have someone to talk to. This is my first time attending the Holiday Tea and I already look forward to coming back next year," said Stone. "This means a lot to me, I just love the decorations. It all makes me feel very happy."
Stone's escort started out as a stranger, but he immediately discovered they had something in common.
"This is very enjoyable for me as well. I get a chance to visit with a new friend, Florence, whose husband was Marine in Iwo Jima, Japan," said Glynn. "She was excited to learn we'd have so much to talk about."
Preparation for this social was no small task as more than 1,138 homemade cookies were pledged and souvenir photos for each guest required purchasing over 100 boxes of Polaroid film. Those in nursing homes who couldn't physically attend were delivered cookies and poinsettias.
Outreach was also extended to other organizations as some were donated to youth centers, security guards and given to the holiday party for families of prisoners at the Cumberland County Prison.
"We had to make sure there were sugar-free cookies, and volunteers to deliver. Gift bags for seniors were given out by the Girl Scouts, and each year the Bermudian Springs High School bakes and donates, 350 dozen cookies," said Joanne Glover, chairperson for refreshments. "It was definitely a group effort."
Once the event gets rolling, it's all about having fun and most of all, it's a chance for veterans serving in the present to connect with veterans who served in the past.
"I'm from the Church of God Home and this is my first time coming. It's always good to get out and having my picture taken with Roger has been my favorite part," said Ken Wiediger, a World War II veteran.
Wiediger's escort, Col. Roger Sangvic, a USAWC student, enjoyed his opportunity to learn about someone with a lifetime of experience.
"I've learned a lot of interesting things about Ken," said Sangvic. "Ken was married 58 years, he was a police captain in Utica, N.Y., and he served as a Marine throughout the Pacific. Today I get a chance to personally say 'thank you' to a great American and veteran like Ken."
Entertainment is a jackpot of variety, ranging from bell choirs, jazz bands, Celtic dancers, vocalists, and of course fans gave some extra holiday cheer to a celebrity performance from Elvis. Santa and Mrs. Claus were also on hand to welcome visitors and serve afternoon refreshments.
"Everybody does their part to help. I was impressed with the willingness and flexibility of all the volunteers," said Lt. Col Patrick Sweeney, who organized volunteers for the event. "Everyone worked together and best of all it provided an opportunity for residents of Carlisle Barracks to meet and interact with residents in the community."
Come sun or snow, Soldiers, families, faculty and staff at the USAWC, plan to continue this long-standing tradition.
"I'm here today escorting a Vietnam veteran and this is an example of the military taking care of the military. There's a huge generation of veterans out there who are still a part of our military family," said Air Force Lt. Col Gerald Goodfellow, USAWC student. "We may be on a post, but we are still connected to those in our community. When you're in the military, you feel apart of a bigger family, and we want to extend that good feeling to others."
Originally sponsored by the Carlisle Barracks Women's Guild, the first holiday tea in December 1956 brought 50 women from homes around the Carlisle area to the installation's officers club to celebrate the holiday season. The tea has grown vastly over its 52 year history with this year's event being one of the largest.