FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Some 150 Soldiers, spouses and children huddled together in the cold blue twilight Thursday waiting for nightfall, when Fort Drum officials were scheduled to light the installation's Christmas tree and Hanukkah menorah in front of the Main Post Chapel.

After a prayer of thanksgiving for the gifts of "meaning, joy and hope" that come with Christmas, Fort Drum installation Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Darrell Thomsen Jr. introduced Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, who welcomed community members to the celebration.

"This really is a special season," said Milley, who invited the children in attendance to gather around him under the silhouette of the spruce tree up front.

While he chatted with the youngsters, one young boy and his sister told the general that both of their parents were medics currently deployed to Afghanistan.

Milley reassured the two, and then he told the crowd of revelers that he'd rather interact with the community's youngest members than just read prepared notes.

"As you can see, we have a whole group of America's finest here -- our children," Milley said. "In this special season, I want everybody here at Fort Drum … to remember (these children), because that's what it's really all about … that's why we're in uniform.

"Whether or not you believe in Christmas or menorahs or crosses or anything else, just remember that your freedom of religion and your freedom of worship are paid for by their parents," he continued. "That's why we are in uniform. It's about them that I serve.

"I would just ask that all of you keep in your heart and minds and prayers these children and the parents of these children who are currently serving in Afghanistan," Milley added.

Fort Drum's annual holiday tradition was sponsored by the chaplain's office as well as Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

Once the tree and menorah were lit, community members enjoyed welcoming Santa Claus to the North Country. He arrived in a fire truck with flashing red lights and posed for a few photos by the outdoor Christmas tree before mounting a sled and riding to a holiday party next door at Youth Services, where children lined up to have their pictures taken with him.

During the festivities, Families were treated to holiday cookies, a variety of toys and free photos with Santa, courtesy of FMWR.