FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- A national campaign that ships farm-fresh Christmas trees to U.S. military personnel every year passed through Fort Drum on Thursday, its final stop in the state of New York less than two weeks before the big holiday.

The eighth annual Trees for Troops program, a partnership of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation and shipping giant FedEx Corp., delivered roughly 750 fresh-cut trees to Soldiers and their Family Members here at no cost.

"This is like a little mini-Christmas for us," said Dick Darling, owner of Darling's Tree Farm in Clifton Springs and co-chairman of the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York. "We really enjoy doing this.

"These (Soldiers) are all volunteers, and they are in harm's way," he explained. "That takes quite a level of responsibility and commitment."

"They are giving everything they can to their country for us," echoed Darling's wife, Mary Ellen, who co-chairs the association with her husband. "This is a good way for the public to give back."
So far this year, the Trees for Troops program has delivered nearly 19,000 trees to members of the armed forces community stationed in the U.S. and overseas, including Afghanistan -- bringing the total to more than 120,000 donated trees since the program launched in 2005.

FedEx, which covers the campaign's shipping costs, used three freight trucks to transport what were mostly Douglas and Fraser firs to Fort Drum last week.

Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, and Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander, each took time to thank Trees for Troops participants, including the Darling family, FedEx workers and 10th Sustainment Brigade Soldiers who volunteered to unload the trees.

"The thing that I appreciate most is the time that it takes for (these) folks to come out here," Rosenberg said. "Time is one of those things that we all have precious little of."

A good majority of the Soldiers helping out last week also unloaded trees last year, according to 1st Lt. Scott Garner, platoon leader of Supply Support Activity 2, 543rd Quartermaster Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade.

"They really enjoy it when we are able to come out here and do things a little off the beaten path, especially when it means helping out Soldiers and their Families," Garner said. "Every single one of them is an actual volunteer."

According to Dick Darling, some 150 tree farms statewide participated in Trees for Troops this year, including three New York farms that together donated 100 trees to the program.
"At a $40 value, that's $4,000 they are giving up," noted Darling, whose farm contributed 30 evergreens.

He said he hopes the fragrance of a real tree will make the Christmas experience a little more enjoyable this year for hundreds of Fort Drum Soldiers and Families stationed far from home.
"We hear stories of (troops) getting that first smell of the tree, and we just hope to give them a little bit of a feeling of home," Darling said.