As the November sun set behind the landscape of crimson, amber and ochre autumnal foliage, Fort Bragg Main Post Parade Field came alive with the sights and sounds of Soldiers and Families buzzing with holiday excitement.
About 3,000 people of the community gathered at the annual installation’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony Nov. 29 to enjoy an evening of fun and entertainment. The evening began with the U.S. Army Parachute Team “Golden Knights” whizzing down the sky with pyrotechnics, followed by a festive performance by Mildred B. Poole Elementary School students, the lighting of the garrison’s holiday tree by Maj. Gen. Brian McKiernan, deputy commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, and the 2018 Family of the Year winner, and the arrival of Santa Claus.
According to Rhett Stroupe, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR) events coordinator, the primary focus of the event was for the kids.
“It’s an opportunity for us to let Soldiers, their Families and particularly the kids know how much we love and appreciate them,” Stroupe said.
There were many children-centric attractions such as bounce houses, two 20-feet sliding ramps, a snow play area, a trackless train and an array of food trucks, which were new to this year’s celebration.
Being in the business of improving the morale and welfare of military Families, Stroupe said it’s important for Bragg Families to come to an event like this because it improves their quality of life and it’s an opportunity for Families to escape everyday stressors.
Before the tree was lit, McKiernan took the stage to deliver opening remarks. But at the beginning of his speech, he announced though he was there to get everyone in the holiday spirit, he was “not quite there yet.”
That was when he took off his beret and slipped on a Santa hat.
“There we go; now I’m feeling it,” he said as the crowd cheered. “My sergeant major warned me; he said two things: stay on script and and sir, stay in uniform. How am I doing sergeant major?”
Jokes and fun aside, McKiernan reminded the crowd to keep those who are away from their loved ones for duty and their Families in their hearts and prayers.
After his remarks, the Family of the Year winner Sgt. 1st Class Wes Bevel, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division; his wife, Jessica, and their six children joined McKiernan to flip the candy-cane colored switch that turned on the lights to the garrison Christmas tree. They huddled closely so everyone could reach the large handle and then with a push, the tree lights came alive in shades of blue and indigo.
Shortly after the lighting, Santa arrived in a firetruck. Kids rushed to a nearby tent as soon as they saw they lights and heard the sirens to snag a photo opportunity and share their Christmas list with him.
As for the Bevels, they were not expecting to win the Army Community Service honor. Wes, who has been serving for 17 years, said all the kudos goes to Jessica, who is not only the glue that holds their Family of eight together on the homefront, but is also an active volunteer in the Fort Bragg community and within the 1st Bn., 325th AIR.
“She puts in tons, and tons, and tons of work to allow me to do what I do,” he said. “She’s a very strong woman.”
But it’s not only the adults in the Bevel Family who are heavily involved in serving the community around them, their kids are also active participants in giving back.
“Our kids are involved as much as we are too,” Jessica said. “They’ve given up beds for people to stay in our home, they have been part of some very tough days, they’ve seen the Army on a lot of different levels. I’m really proud of the resilience that our children have enduring everything they do.”
The event was made possible by the partnership between the directorates of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security; FMWR, Public Works; Emergency Services; and several other corps assets such as the 172nd Medical Detachment-Preventive Medicine, Veterinary Service and more, according to Stroupe. The ceremony took about six months to plan.
“The devil is in the details and my team and I are very spot on as far as making sure every detail is covered,” Stroupe said. “The culmination of this event is to watch it get executed like clockwork, but the most important thing for me is it’s all about the kids. Seeing the smiles on their faces, that tells the story. That makes what I do so enjoyable and why I love what I do.”
The tree will stay lit nightly through New Years, weather permitting. On Jan. 2, the tree will be deconstructed and be sent to the recycling yard.