Journalist @baltimoresun writer artist runner #amwriting Chaplain PIO #partylikeajournalist

Journalist @baltimoresun writer artist runner #amwriting Chaplain PIO #partylikeajournalist
Journalist @baltimoresun writer artist runner #amwriting Md Troopers Assoc #20 & Westminster Md Fire Dept Chaplain PIO #partylikeajournalist

Monday, December 10, 2007

20071201 Operation Christmas Tree

Westminster to receive worldwide recognition for bringing Christmas to the troops in Iraq

By Kevin Dayhoff

Army Specialist Luisa Gonzalez and her father Jim Ward join Congressman Roscoe Bartlett as they stop for a moment to answer questions during “Operation Christmas” at the Ag Center December 1. Over 300 volunteers gathered to pack 5,000 live decorated Christmas trees for the troops in Iraq. Photo by Kevin Dayhoff


Westminster, December 1 -- “If the troops in Iraq can’t be home for Christmas, then we’re going to make sure that a little bit of home goes to Iraq,” said one volunteer at the Carroll County Agriculture Center on Saturday, December 1.

Just then the words “we need more decorations over here,” drowned out the conversation as she was asked for her name. “We’re all here to support the troops… Call me an elf for the troops. Hand me that box of decorations. That one right there…”

Lindsey Brothers, from Finksburg, who works with the Armed Forces Foundation, surveyed the scene as she looked for a pack of papers and called the frenzied activity “organized pandemonium,” as over 300 volunteers braved the wind and cold and turned out to package 5,000 live Christmas trees for the troops in Iraq.

The main operation was centered in a 40 by 60 foot tent, supplied by Kay-Lyns Party Rental. However the packing activity quickly escaped the confines of the tent as assembled boxes burst through the back of the tent, were tossed to a staging area at the end of the tent, stacked, and then filled with Christmas trees.

As quickly as the boxed trees entered one end of the tent, they sped down an assembly line staffed by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, “Young Marines,” and other volunteers who just wanted to help. The boxed live Christmas tree then erupted out the other end after being stuffed with decorations, lights, batteries, a Christmas card, and a phone card – and lots of heartfelt smiles and holiday wishes.

Brothers said the Carroll County community support has been “simply overwhelming. I had no idea there would be this much support.”

That theme was echoed by Jim Ward, a 1992 Francis Scott Key High School graduate, as he talked on his Bluetooth earpiece, dug in his pocket for some keys and handed a piece of paper to a volunteer. Just as a forklift, driven by Alan Trump, an Ag Center employee, whizzed behind us, Ward explained that this all began last year when his family decided to send his daughter, Specialist Luisa Gonzalez, an Army medic deployed in Iraq, a decorated live five foot Christmas tree.

“The Post Office couldn’t figure that out,” he explained. Meanwhile, his daughter’s reaction was “how about the rest of my troops?”

So last year Ward, his wife Betty and daughters Elizabeth and Marie sent 75 live Christmas trees to her unit, her uncle’s unit in another part of Iraq and two Marine units out of Fort Detrick. “Let’s say they were smaller than five foot – but we got them there,” added Ward.

This year even 2-1/2 year-old Marie got into the act stacking labels off the printer for “Weezy,” as she calls her older sister – and “Weezy’s trees.”

Just then Ward looked up to answer a question from the national office of Fox News Channel. Fox will be airing the story nationwide on Christmas. As soon as he finished with Fox News, Mark Simkin with the Australian Broadcast Network popped into the tent with a videographer.

Simkin said that Australia has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and this is a “wonderful Christmas story, mate.” He described how the Australian news will broadcast the story “all across Australia and eastern Asia.”

Ward then detailed that he will “ship a tree to Australian troops, British (troops) whatever... As long as they are fighting on our side...” A point of which Simkin nodded in agreement - “That’s why we’re here.”

6th Dist. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett was on the assembly line and looked up long enough to say what a great thing this was for the troops – and morale... “It’s our way of saying thanks and Merry Christmas.

Army Specialist Gonzalez, a 2003 Francis Key High School graduate, said that she was given a three-day pass to volunteer with this year’s Operation Christmas Tree. As she shivered in the cold, she acknowledged that it was an abrupt change to be here. Two days before, Gonzales, trained in combat medicine and a certified emergency medical technician, was working in a “level 2” medical facility that “operates between (the combat) line and the combat support hospital.”

Gonzalez agreed with Congressman Bartlett that the Christmas Trees will be a big boost for morale. “I’m just happy to be here. It will make a big difference in Iraq, where every day is Monday. The mission goes on no matter what the day is… Iraq knows no holidays.”

Over in another part of the tent, Westminster resident Maggie Langdon was busy putting labels on the boxes as she explained that earlier, she “was repackaging ornaments. I’m here to do my little part to help the troops.”

Lois Giles, who can usually be found at Shepherd’s Staff during the week, was moved by the thought that “some soldier in Iraq is going to put this on their tree,” as she packaged some decorations. “It’s a way of touching a soldier for the holidays.”

The next day – late in the evening, Ward said that they got all of them packed, although he was still at it, handwriting some last minute labels. “We were there until 6:30 last night and we got it done.”

“We could not have done it without the great support of the city (of Westminster), Alan Trump, Larry Collins and the Ag Center,” said a tired Ward.

“I’m very happy with the turn out. Can’t thank people enough…” He went to mention folks like Westminster Mayor Tom Ferguson, assistant planning and public works director Jeff Glass and Chief Jeff Alexander and the Westminster Fire Department… “And I can’t forget ‘Steel Horse Pit Beef.’ They were heaven-sent for serving everyone food all day.”

The fire department watered the trees with recycled water since the drought management-watering ban is still in effect. “I called my good friend the mayor up,” said Ward, “and he and the (assistant) public works director (Glass) and the chief (Alexander) figured it out.”

Ward also wanted to be sure to credit Congressman Bartlett and his Westminster office assistant Deborah Burrell for also going out of their way to help. “The entire town went out of their way to help. I haven’t seen this community come out like this in years. It was heartwarming and the troops will appreciate it.”

If you would like to make a donation the address is: Operation Christmas Tree, P.O. Box 391, Westminster, MD 21158. For more information go to on the web.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster Maryland USA.

E-mail him at: kdayhoff AT or kevindayhoff AT

His columns and articles appear in The Tentacle -; Westminster Eagle Opinion;, Winchester Report and The Sunday Carroll Eagle – in the Sunday Carroll County section of the Baltimore Sun. Get Westminster Eagle RSS Feed

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