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Fort Stewart evergreen brightly lit
Families watch as officials, children help light the night
web 1204 Tree Lighting 2
Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation marketing assistant Molly Cooke led a team of merry elves in singing Christmas carols and rallying the crowd. - photo by Elvia Kelly/The Frontline

Upcoming events

• City of Riceboro tree-lighting ceremony: Riceboro residents and city council members will open the season with a tree lighting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at city hall.

• Christmas for kids celebration: A day of arts, crafts, face painting, a petting zoo, Santa visits and carriage rides at Savannah’s City Market from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10.

Bundled in coats and scarves, Fort Stewart soldiers, spouses and their children gathered Thursday night outside Club Stewart night for Fort Stewart’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.

The Third Infantry Division Band set the scene with instrumental Christmas classics, while elves dressed in red and green warmed the crowd with dances and a rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.”

During his invocation, Chaplain Lt. Col. Robert Whitlock asked that God bless the season and give people the capacity to give more than they receive.

“May these colored lights and shiny decorations remind us of the magic of Christmas when we were all children,” he prayed.

“As we celebrate with those we love most, remind us of those who, once again, are separated from loved ones in order to defend this great land,” he said. “Bless them and those they hold most dear … keep them safe, wrap them in your love and bring them safely back together at just the right time.”

Before the ceremony started, Army spouse Lisa Stolte reflected on her experience last Christmas when her husband was deployed. Like many soldiers on post, he returned home to his wife and two school-aged children in April.

“It’s just a great feeling (to have him home),” she said. “It just wasn’t the same last year.”

Stolte and her family attended the event to put them in the spirit of the holidays and because it offered the children so much joy last year, she said.

Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, commander of the 3rd ID, also offered remarks about the event and its significance to the Fort Stewart community.

“This is a great Fort Stewart tradition, and it’s a great Army tradition, and I’ve been doing this all my life at places all over the world, we have tree lighting ceremonies,” Abrams said.

“This is a special time of the year, and it’s a time for us to be thankful and say thanks for things that we sometimes take for granted …,” he said. “This year, for the first time in a long time, the entire division is not deployed. We’re all back … and it’s a great thing to celebrate.

“But we’ve still got about 700 or so who are still deployed from Fort Stewart. … Keep those folks in mind, those are your neighbors, those are our neighbors, those are our teammates who’ve got kids who may be in the audience, who go to our schools and so forth, and they’re going to be away from their loved one this Christmas, so I ask all of you to keep them in mind.”

The commander continued to thank the soldiers for their service and the families for their support. Then he introduced the Liberty County High School chorus, which performed “Deck the Halls” and a song called “Fruitcake.”

The crowd counted to three, and Abrams, Command Sgt. Maj. Edd E. Watson and six children gathered to flip the switch that brought the tree to twinkling life.

The band struck up an instrumental version of “O Tannenbaum,” as the audience erupted in cheers and applause at the sight of the giant tree adorned with multi-colored lights.

After singing and dancing with merry elves led by Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation marketing assistant Molly Cook, the children got a surprise visit from Santa Claus, who rode in on a fire truck, visited with children and listened to their Christmas wish lists.

Army spouse Tiera Johnson brought her daughters, Nyema, 4, and Nyla, 2, to see Santa.

“The girls wanted to read him their big long lists,” she said with a laugh.

“I feel happy,” Nyema said when asked about the event. She said she asked Santa for a flash light, slippers, make-up and nail polish. Her sister asked for a Barbie doll, she said.

“And I’m being good,” Nyema added, falling in line with the idea that Santa treats the best-behaved children.

While the girls were most excited about Santa, Johnson said she is eager to usher in the season and share Christmas traditions.

“I just love the holidays,” she said. “As you know, it’s Jesus’ birthday, and just all the love that everyone shows at this time, it’s the happiest time.”

Johnson and the girls make ornaments for their own trees and to give as gifts to family members, and they also go all out with their holiday baking, she said.

“Christmas brings out the child in everyone,” she said. “And it’s just so awesome that the smallest things — like Christmas trees and lights and seeing Santa — make them so happy.”

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