FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 13, 2012) -- The community came together Dec. 6 to celebrate the Christmas season with the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Howze Field.

The ceremony gave the community a chance to exchange holiday greetings and to usher in the holiday season, according to Kimberly Abeln, Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation annual events coordinator.

"This is a great event that gives Soldiers, Families, retirees and civilians the opportunity to celebrate and mingle together. It is a wonderful way to support those who support our troops, such as the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, post chapel choir, 98th Army Band and local volunteers," she said.

The event featured several choirs from the child development center, the Girl Scouts and the combined chapel choir, as well as revealed the winners of the ornament contest.

"This is a great event for all military Families to help celebrate Christmas. The kids get plenty of treats and prizes from Santa," said Brian Jackson, DFMWR program manager. "It's exciting to see the general and other command staff members support this event because it gets Families out of their households so they can celebrate Christmas with other military Families. It creates more cohesiveness not only in their internal Family but their external Family as well."

A four-piece horn quartet from the 98th Army "Silver Wings" Band performed holiday tunes to entertain Families as they sipped hot cocoa. The large seating area was quickly filled and Families were soon scattered about the lawn around the tree.

The ornament contest winners were announced at the ceremony before the tree was lit.

The winners of the contest were Will Mingus, Tyler Maxwell, Jimi Peoples, and the overall winner who who lit the tree this year with Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, was Taylor Wood. Each winner received a trophy and a large gift basket.

Every contestant's ornament was placed on the tree, but the overall winner was given a special prize.

"What is really special is that the overall winner not only received a gift package but she got to light the tree with the general," said Jackson.

Mangum said he was honored to share the moment with Wood and was impressed with Fort Rucker's tree.

"Our tree may not be as tall as the one in front of the White House or as big as the one in Rockefeller Center, but it is special nonetheless because of the great care that our children have [taken] to put together their very special ornaments," he said.

The warm weather during the event provided for a comfortable, yet unorthodox, setting for the tree to be lit.

"This is the first Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony I have ever been to where people were wearing flip-flops and smelled like suntan lotion," said Justin O. Mitchell, deputy garrison commander.

Parents and children alike enjoyed the festivities for the Family atmosphere and convenient location.

"It helped me get into the Christmas spirit, despite the temperatures," said Alexandra Rogers, Army spouse. "I liked singing all the carols and watching the tree light up."

Her daughter, Cheyanne Rogers, added that she had never seen such a large Christmas tree.

"I really wanted to see who was going to win the ornament contest, but the tree is beautiful," she said.

Mangum asked everyone viewing the tree to think of the Soldiers who are away from home and cannot share traditional moments, like lighting a Christmas tree, with their Families.

"While we are in this blessed season of giving, I ask that everyone think about those who can't be home this holiday season, who are serving a cause greater than self and are in harm's way. Please say a special prayer for them and their Families this Christmas as they continue to do their mission and duty in lands far away," he said.

For those staying here this holiday, he hoped that they would cherish every moment with their Families.