Staff Sgt. Joel Pena
10th Mountain Division Journalist
It was a cold and breezy night, but that did not discourage hundreds of Soldiers, Family Members and local community members from gathering Tuesday at the Commons to kick off the holiday season and enjoy the traditional lighting of the Fort Drum Christmas tree and menorah.
“Tonight is a special night,” said Hal Greer, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director. “During this season, we celebrate our Soldiers and Families. This is our way of taking care of them, and it’s also the benchmark for celebrating the holiday period.”
The celebration started with an invocation by Chaplain (Col.) John Moore, garrison chaplain.
“Do you think this is the most wonderful time of the year?” Moore asked, to which the crowd responded with a loud “yes.”
After the invocation, Brig. Gen. Carl A. Alex, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commanding general-support, spoke to the attendees.
“There really is no better way to start the holiday season,” Alex said. “I just ask that today and throughout the holiday season, we keep our Soldiers, especially the ones who are deployed, in our thoughts and in our prayers.”
After speaking to the crowd, Alex asked all of the children present to help him light the Christmas tree and the menorah with a big control he held in his hands.
The children surrounded him and to the cheers and applause of the crowd, the tree and the menorah were lit.
After the tree- and menorah-lighting ceremony, attendees were invited inside the Commons to “Santa’s Workshop,” which was assembled inside the ballroom.
Before going inside, the crowd erupted with cheers and applause as Santa made his entrance riding on a big red fire truck with the sirens sounding and the lights flickering.
Once inside the Commons, they were treated to a short concert by the Child, Youth and School Services Choir.
“The kids practiced the Christmas carols all last week,” said Jamie Phalen, Po Valley Child Development Center assistant director. “They are very excited. I hope everyone enjoys the show.”
After the concert, Greer and Alex held an appreciation ceremony to thank the Association of the United States Army, AmeriCU credit union, USAA and Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes, for sponsoring the event. (Sponsorship does not imply endorsement.)
After the short ceremony, parents took photographs of their children as they lined up to meet with Santa.
After the children visited with Santa, they went to “Santa’s Toy Machine,” where they each got to select a toy with the assistance of one of Santa’s helpers.
All throughout the Commons, characters such as Frosty the Snowman, the Holiday Bear and Mrs. Claus walked greeted Families and posed for photos with them.
A free booth also was provided, where Families that didn’t bring a camera had an opportunity to have their photographs professionally taken while participating in all of the festivities.
One Soldier enjoying the festivities was Sgt. Patrick Marsh, E Troop, 6th Squadron, 6th Regiment Cavalry, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
“This is our first time coming to the celebration,” he said, holding his 18-month-old daughter Savannah. “My Family is really enjoying this, especially Savannah.”
Also enjoying the night was the Family of Capt. Thomas Johnson, who is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th Sustainment Brigade.
“There are a lot of great things going on here tonight,” Johnson said.
“I’m deploying very soon, and seeing the smile on my daughter’s face as she spoke to Santa and received her gift makes this a very special Christmas for me,” he continued.
The event concluded around 8 p.m., and Families left with their children smiling and holding onto a special gift from Santa.