Hundreds of active-duty soldiers and their families braved chilly winds and a long line Monday morning to stake their claim to one of the 800 Christmas trees FedEx Corp. and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation were giving away as part of their fourth annual Trees for Troops program.
FedEx shipped the fresh, real trees to Fort Benning from various tree farms in North Carolina, said Nicole Fischer with the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation. All soldiers and their dependents had to do was flash a military identification card and haul away the free tree of their choice.
Staff Sgt. Carl Cazee and his wife, Misty, lined up in the parking lot of Fort Benning’s main post car wash about 10 a.m. with their 2-year-old daughter, Elaina, and waited about 40 minutes before finally reaching the tree-staging area. Some folks waited between one and two hours to get their trees.
Staff Sgt. Antoya Gordon with the Warrior Transition Battalion on post didn’t mind the line. She said she was just happy to spend this holiday season with her children. The mother of 6-year-old twin boys and an 8-year-old girl was in Iraq last Christmas.
“It’s going to be very nice because last year I was deployed,” Gordon said. “My kids had a hard time adjusting with that because, of course, you think of the holidays, mommy’s going to be there, presents and all this. So it’s going to be very nice to be at home with the family, mom, dad and everybody for the holidays.”
Last year’s line wasn’t nearly as long as the one that formed Monday morning. Darlene Hines, Outdoor Recreation Specialist for Fort Benning’s Morale Welfare and Recreation Command, said the increased turnout could be attributed to the combination of the return of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in May and June and a weakened economy.
“People are under the misconception that soldiers make a lot of money, and they don’t,” Hines said. “Some of them have family at home that are struggling to get by while they’re away, so this is very helpful at this very important time of the year.”
Cazee said he appreciates the efforts of FedEx, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation and MWR, especially in such tough economic times.
“It’s an awesome thing, especially for soldiers who are having a hard time financially during this time of year,” he said. “You go out in town, your trees run from $25 and up. Soldiers that are having a hard time financially come up here and get one for free, so I mean you can’t beat it.”
FedEx and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation expect to donate and deliver approximately 16,000 Christmas trees to more than 45 military bases in the United States and overseas this holiday season.