Five hundred trees were given away Nov. 30 at the Smith Lake Recreation Area as part of the Trees for Troops program.
Three FedEx freights were parked to the side as trees, ranging in sizes, lined both sides of the street near the camping pavilions. Each tree had a tag with a card that read, “Merry Christmas!” from a sponsoring organization or person. Volunteers from Fort Bragg’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR) and the 82nd Airborne Division oversaw the distribution of the trees in a marquee Fort Bragg Christmas event.
As Soldiers and Families stopped at the roadblock leading into the recreation area, more than 15 volunteers in purple Santa hats huddled over coffee and breakfast prior to the 8 a.m. start to the national program. The mission was to deliver more than 18,000 Christmas trees to 65 military installations.
According to Michael Desmone, community recreation officer with DFMWR, 400 free tree vouchers were claimed last week in fewer than two hours — compared to his first Trees for Troops experience a year before, when it took two days. The vouchers were given away to any active-duty service members who were staff sergeant or below.
Kris D’Alessandro, delivery system branch chief for DFMWR, demonstrated to the volunteers how to tie the trees onto car roofs. D’Alessandro said 400 of the 500 trees would be given away by 10 a.m., with 40 trees going to Gold Star Families and the remaining 60 available to non-voucher Soldiers.
D’Alessandro credited Jen Fayson, event coordinator with DFMWR, for the successful organization of the event.
“It’s one of the best starts to the holiday,” Fayson said. “It’s my second year and we improve each year. It’s a huge line and Families love it.”
Once the start time came, the road was opened to the waiting Families and Soldiers, who soon filled the parking lot.
One of the first Soldiers in line was Spc. Cherokee Walters, 1st Battalion,319th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
“I came last year,” he said. “It’s a good service to the community and I personally look forward to it.”
Pfc. Jacob Hovda, a Soldier with the 37th Engineer Battalion, agreed.
“The voucher was great,” he said. “My team leader told me (about the event) and it’s nice to have one less thing to worry about financially. I appreciate it.”
Spc. Dillan Mallory with the 127th Engineer Battalion, directed traffic in the back of the line.
“I’ve been out here for two years and it’s a great thing for the trees to be out here,” he said. “It really helps people out, starting the month of December helping troops. It helps morale, too, and trees can get expensive the closer we get to Christmas.”
As more and more cars entered the line, Mallory said that a lot are happy with their trees. “Families are more inclined to set up decorations and get in the spirit and I think that’s great,” he said.