By Paul Steven Ghiringhelli, DrumDecember 14, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Dec. 14, 2011) -- The sweet smell of fresh-cut firs is keeping the Christmas spirit alive and well at Fort Drum this holiday season.
Some 720 farm-grown trees were delivered to Fort Drum on three FedEx freight trucks Dec. 8 for distribution to Soldiers and their families as part of this year's Trees for Troops program, a national campaign sponsored by FedEx and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation that ships real trees to military families for Christmas.
"It's quite an honor to come up here and present these trees to the Soldiers," said Dick Darling, owner of Darling's Tree Farm in Clifton Springs and chairman of the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York.
"All of these kids have volunteered to support us and the country and carry on our freedoms," he said of Soldiers. "I think that we should do more of this as a country to help (pay) back (Soldiers) and show (our) support."
In the cold morning sun, Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, took time to recognize the Darling family with a plaque of appreciation before helping to unload some trees.
"Our country very much appreciates our service," Milley told Soldiers and civilians gathered in front of Hays Hall. "An example of that is right here in front of you. Dick Darling and his wife, Mary Ellen, over the years, have donated lots of Christmas trees to our Soldiers.
"That's a connection between the people and (their) Army," Milley continued. "We are the people's Army. It's a connection that has been paid for with our blood and their support for a couple hundred years of our nation's history.
"The Darlings are a great example of that support to all of us," he added. "On behalf of everyone here at the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum, I want to thank both of you for your generous contributions."
In addition to thanking the Darlings, Milley expressed his gratitude to a platoon of Soldiers from 543rd Quartermaster Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade, who volunteered to help unload and distribute the trees.
The general also presented a plaque to Scott Foss, a FedEx driver based in Watertown, who received it on behalf of the shipping giant.
"All Christmas trees have to go from point A to point B. They don't just walk there," Milley said. "FedEx Corp., through the goodness of their hearts, free of charge, has delivered these Christmas trees to our Soldiers. They are another great example of support to America's Army by the people who make up this great country. Thank you for your support."
After thanking participants, Milley grabbed a Santa Claus cap with two stars on it and, along with Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin D. Sharkey, acting division command sergeant major, hopped on the back of the FedEx truck and began unloading the sap-soaked evergreens.
Soldiers created a chain and enthusiastically loaded the Christmas trees onto five-ton trucks to be later distributed across post.
"This is exactly the kind of thing I joined the Army for," said 2nd Lt. Scott Garner, 543rd Quartermaster Company, who received a plaque from Milley on behalf of his brigade.
"I love helping people," he said. "I love working with my troops. As you can see, they work on autopilot. They just can't wait to get after it and do good things."
Thursday's delivery coincided this year with a U.S. Senate resolution passed Nov. 30 declaring the first full week of December as "National Christmas Tree Week."
Trees donated to troops here came from some 140 tree farms throughout New York state. The trees were firs, mostly Douglas and Fraser, and ranged in height from five feet to seven feet tall.
Darling said he makes the case for buying real instead of artificial by teasing people.
"Would you have a plastic turkey for Thanksgiving?" he asked.
Since 2005, Trees for Troops has delivered thousands of Christmas trees to military families nationwide and overseas, including Iraq. Darling said FedEx flew hundreds of real trees to troops in Afghanistan in early November.
On Friday, the 100,000th Christmas tree was delivered to a Marine family in Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Because many stationed at Fort Drum are far from home and relatives this holiday season, Trees for Troops organizers hope to bring military families the fragrance of real fir this year to enhance their Christmas experience.
"Christmas is a tough time of the year to be away from your family and home," Darling said. "If we can give them a little joy -- that's our goal."