All around the North Country, people are busy decorating for the holidays. One organization is helping to ensure Soldiers and Families at Fort Drum and around the world receive a little holiday cheer.
Dick and Mary Ellen Darling from Darling Tree Farm were on hand Monday to donate hundreds of evergreen trees to the Fort Drum community as part of the Trees for Troops program.
Brig. Gen. Carl A. Alex, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commanding general – support, thanked the Trees for Troops program on behalf of the entire division and Fort Drum community.
“This is a great example of how Soldiers are cared for – they’re given the opportunity to experience a great Christmas,” he said.
This is the ninth year the Darlings have participated in Trees
for Troops, according to Dick Darling.
“Trees for Troops is part of the Christmas Spirit Foundation – a division of the National Christmas Tree Growers Association,” he said.
Darling serves as vice chairman of Christmas Spirit Foundation nationwide, and together, he and Mary Ellen Darling co-chair the Trees for Troops program in New York state.
“We had a local Soldier killed about nine years ago in our community, and it touched us,” Dick Darling said. “We wanted to get involved.”
To date, more than 140,000 trees have been shipped to military communities nationwide. Dick Darling estimates that is about 280 tractor trailer loads full of trees.
The shipping company, FedEx, transports trees to roughly 60 installations nationwide and overseas as part of the program. Scott Foss, a FedEx driver participating in Monday’s event, called Trees for Troops a very “special delivery.”
In New York state alone, Trees for Troops is donating about 1,200 trees this year, Dick Darling said. He credits the organization’s success to all of the tree farmers nationwide who participate in the program.
“This isn’t our own individual program. This is a credit to the 140 other growers and (other organizations involved),” he said. “Coming up here (to Fort Drum) is the highlight of our season.”
While it means a lot to the Darlings and tree farmers across the state, receiving a Christmas tree free of charge also means a lot to Fort Drum Soldiers and Families and to the deployed Soldiers who will receive trees this year.
“Nothing can brighten a Soldier’s Christmas more than receiving a tree.” Alex explained.
Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior enlisted adviser, added that this is a big morale boost for the community, but also to the Soldiers who give their all every day at Fort Drum and in Afghanistan.
“This is another fine example to show there are people who care,” he said. “Christmas is a time for giving. This shows patriotism, and this helps people.”
“For the cost of one Christmas tree, that’s one more gift a young military Family can give to their child,” Merritt continued.
Boosting morale is even more important now than it was 12 years ago, Merritt added.
“Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division are still very much at war,” he said. “It’s important for those young Soldiers to know that Americans haven’t forgotten about them.”
Staff Sgt. Frank S. Chaney, a human resources NCO assigned to 10th Sustainment Brigade headquarters, was one of the first Soldiers to receive a tree. He picked it out with the assistance of his spouse and described the experience as “humbling.”
“The trees will give Soldiers a sense of holiday spirit and let them know that there are people that care and would like to bring a smile to their faces,” Chaney said.