The faces of the children who enjoyed Friday night’s holiday hayride at Fort Stewart’s Holbrook Pond Recreation Area were evidence enough to prove Christmas is a special time for families.
During the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation-sponsored event, some youngsters sat quietly watching an outdoor movie while others waited impatiently for a chance to talk to Santa. A few bounced happily on bales of hay as they took in the sights and sounds of Christmas.
“She’s been saying ‘hayride, hayride’ all week long,” said 4th Infantry Brigade Spc. Rufus Reddick, who held onto his youngest daughter, Reese, 2, while she ‘oohed and aahed’ at the Christmas lights. “This is her first Christmas hayride but not her first hayride. She’s ridden on her grandpa’s hay wagon at his farm in Florida.”
Hayride driver Brandon Shultz brought the children and their parents through the light displays around the lake then into the woods, where he often stopped to allow the night air to sink in around his passengers as they gazed at the clear night sky, absorbing the scent of sweet, piney air. Shultz said he’s been driving for the hayride for four years and enjoys seeing the children’s happy faces.
“It’s a lot of fun doing this,” he said. “The kids make it worth it.”
During an aside moment, Santa — i.e. Bill Cooney, an FMWR employee normally in charge of the Warrior’s Quest program — whispered that he likes working with the kids as a quiet alternative to his normal job. Warrior’s Quest was developed to help soldiers wind down from the stress of combat following redeployment, giving them a whole day of fun and adventure.
Many soldiers, like Spc. Julio Rios, saw the hayride as a good opportunity to unwind and spend quality time with kids and spouses. Rios’ daughter Breanne, 5, was eager at first to talk with Santa, but then grew a little apprehensive about climbing in the jolly man’s lap to tell him what she wanted for Christmas.
Mrs. Claus — i.e. FMWR employee Terri Jordan — greeted each family as they got in line to meet Santa, giving each child a candy cane and warm smile. She admitted some children were afraid of her “husband” at first but most were eager to see him.
Alan Jones III, 4, let Santa lift him up but was rigid as he eyed the man’s white whiskers and red suit. The child finally whispered his Christmas list into Santa’s ear and Santa whispered something back, which drew a smile from Alan, who visible relaxed. He reluctantly hopped off Santa’s lap and rejoined his dad, Spc. Alan Jones Jr.
In addition to lights, hayrides and outdoor movies, a mini-train met families at the entrance to the pond area and shuttled them to other activities. Food also was available, including hotdogs, popcorn, nachos, chips, drinks and funnel cakes.
According to FMWR, the Holbrook Pond Recreation Area’s Christmas displays will remain up through Christmas day for soldiers and their families to drive through and enjoy.