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VIDEO: Fort Stewart tree lighting festival

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With elves helping to bring Santa and Mrs. Claus to Club Stewart, and a Christmas tree pumping out “snow” over the gathered children, Fort Stewart’s annual Christmas tree lighting delighted a crowd of its own last Thursday.

“This is really a day for us as a community to mark the day we start our holiday prep,” said garrison command sergeant major Command Sgt. Maj. Ely Capindo. “This is for our families on post and we open it up to the outside communities as well.”

For many of Fort Stewart’s families, they are spending the Christmas holidays apart from their soldiers. More than 4,000 3rd Infantry Division soldiers are stationed across Eastern Europe as part of NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion into Ukraine.

Events such as the tree lighting are important for the families, Capindo said.

“It reunites them with other family members who have the same experiences,” he said, “who are going through the same thing with their family who are deployed — ‘I can share my story, my spouse is deployed, and we can come together and support each other.’ This highlights that your families are being taken care of as you serve our country on these rotations.”

The tree lighting ceremony, which included food trucks and booths, also helps the installation show what it can do for its soldiers and family members, Capindo noted. As the event was open to the community at large, it also reinforces the bond between the post and its civilian neighbors, the garrison’s top enlisted soldier said.

“It’s just part of what our community does,” he said. “This really shows that bond and what we have inside the installation. I’m really happy with the turnout here. I’m glad we could do this for the kids and the families. I appreciate them coming out. We’re glad to have this.”