JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Dreary weather did not diminish the holiday spirit of U.S. service members as they walked back and forth carrying tightly wrapped evergreen trees from a shipping truck to Bethel Park and Schultz Plaza at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Dec. 7, 2018.
With each breath the U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Air Force Airmen took as they carried the trees, a small cloud escaped their lips. However, smiles covered their faces and holiday music filled the air as they unpacked the 550 trees donated by tree farms in the northeast U.S. and Canada.
Once the ground was filled with rows of trees packed tightly together, service members and their families began to pour in, searching for their perfect tree.
For many, having a real tree for the holidays is a family tradition and is the goal of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation’s Trees for Troops giveaway program to continue the tradition.
“This is our first year here and we are excited to have a real tree,” said Asha Simelton, spouse of U.S. Army Sgt. James Simelton, 331st Transportation Company, 11th Trans. Battalion, 7th Trans. Brigade (Expeditionary) watercraft operator. “My kids love the tree and I can’t wait to decorate it with them.”
All trees donated were adorned with written notes from families who donated to the tree farms, wishing service members and their families a happy holiday season.
The holiday season is a time to spend with family and friends, and for some, it is about giving back to the community. Whether donating trees or just helping families carry their trees back to their vehicles, the Trees for Troops program provides that opportunity.
“I’m not really in it for myself, I’m just here to help out and do what I can,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joseph Gonzales, 733rd Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator. “There are families out there that unfortunately, aren’t able to afford things like this, so if I can help in any way, I’ll do it.”
Due to the amount of tree farms reducing every year, tree prices have increased. The Trees for Troops program provides holiday trees at no cost to active duty, Reserve and National Guard service members, as well as retirees and Department of Defense civilian employees.
According to Michael Farist, 633rd Force Support Squadron warehouse manager, since the trees are free, they are in high demand and it is recommend to arrive early to the event.
The number of trees began to dwindle as the thirteenth year at Fort Eustis and fourth year at Langley Air Force Base of the Trees for Troops program came to an end.
Volunteers assisted families in carrying their new tree and strapped it tightly the roof of their vehicle, making sure to check it twice to ensure sure it wasn’t going anywhere on the drive home.
With their new trees, families thanked the volunteers with smiles on their faces and drove off, leaving only two final words – “happy holidays.”