Story and photo by Rick Emert
Two national organizations partnered to spread some Christmas cheer to military members and their Families.
FedEx and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation distributed 600 Christmas trees to servicemembers, Department of the Army civilians and Family members Monday-Friday at the Mountain Post Sports Complex.
The first two days were dedicated to Soldiers selected by their units to get a free live tree. Beginning Wednesday, any servicemember, civilian employee or Family member could get a free tree while supplies lasted.
Pvt. Thomas McNeil, 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, signed up for the program through his unit and was one of the first to walk away with his free tree Monday morning.
“Getting the tree for free will allow us to put more gifts under it,” he said.
Another Soldier from his unit, Sgt. Jacob Kognang, helped McNeil get the tree home.
“It’s a good program, and it’s very good for Soldiers; these trees are expensive,” Kognang said.
FedEx and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation have teamed up for five years to provide the free trees through the Trees for Troops program.
“It’s awesome to be able to do this for Soldiers and their Families,” said Steve Drake, chief executive officer of Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, “About 3,000 consumers buy the trees in 29 states (for the nationwide program). We send (trees) to Iraq and Afghanistan and to 53 military bases in the United States.”
More than 750 tree growers have donated trees, and FedEx freight trucks have traveled an estimated 150,000 miles to deliver them, according to a Trees for Troops program press release.
The program provided 50,000 trees to servicemembers and their Families in its first four years. This year, Drake said, the program will provide 15,000 trees to military Families.
One of those Families was Ruby Mantz and her daughter, Magdalena, 4, who picked out their tree Monday morning.
“I think it’s an amazing thing they are doing for military Families,” she said. “My husband got one last year, but I had to come and get it this year, because he’s deployed.”
Drake said that it’s Families like the Mantzes that he is most proud to be able to help during the holidays.
“This is Christmastime, and the tree is the centerpiece of the holiday,” Drake said. “It can be a lonely time with the deployments, and I hope this lets servicemembers and Families know that someone is thinking of them.”