MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Marines and sailors, with 7-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement trucks and a myriad of other military cargo trucks in tow, invaded Onslow Beach aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune early Friday morning for a critical operation.
Their mission – locate, load and transport 850 Christmas trees back to the base mainside.
Marines and sailors from MCB Camp Lejeune, Camp Geiger, Camp Johnson and Stone Bay picked up the trees, provided by the Christmas Spirit Foundation’s Trees for Troops program, and delivered by FedEx, to bring back to their respective commands to be dished out to families who can’t afford to buy one.
Yolanda Mayo, the deputy operations officer for Marine Corps Community Services aboard the base, said this is the fourth year MCB Camp Lejeune has partnered with the program, which she said is, “very well-known.”
“Last year, we literally had a line of cars from the enlisted pavilion here at the beach, all the way back to Highway 172 – and much farther back,” said Mayo, who has coordinated the effort for the past four years. “Unfortunately, we had to turn people away because there were more people than trees.”
When the program first happened aboard the base in 2007, Mayo said cars would line up, and people would get their trees on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, much like the last, MCB Camp Lejeune received less than 900 trees. She decided to get in contact with the units instead to avoid last year’s situation.
“The sergeants major and first sergeants know their Marines a lot better than we do,” said Mayo. “They see them constantly. This way, we will know that the Marines and their families who need it most will get a tree. If it were up to me, I’d give everyone a tree, but with a bad economy, the donations get smaller, unfortunately.”
The Trees for Troops program is in its sixth year in existence and has been working not only with Marine Corps bases in North Carolina, but all services worldwide.
To date, they have provided more than 84,000 Christmas trees.
This year, the Chesterfield, Mo. – based Christmas Spirit Foundation plans on breaking the 100,000-tree mark.
Amy Mills, the assistant director for the Christmas Spirit Foundation, visited MCB Camp Lejeune last year to watch the giveaway in person.
She remembered it all too well. She took a photo of the line of cars occupying Highway 172, in a moment that was very reminiscent of the whisper “if you build it, they will come” from the movie Field of Dreams.
“Funny thing, I ‘tweeted’ that photo, and not too long after that, Gary Sinise ‘re-tweeted’ it,” said Mills, who was very surprised at the gesture. “It provided a lot of publicity for the great cause.”
In regards to the foundation planning on donating its 100,000th tree, Mills said the goal is not about number of trees, but rather the number of families who benefit.
“It feels good to be part of a program that gives back to our troops who do so much for us,” said Mills. “We want to make sure we touch people’s lives as much as we can.”
The trees come from growers across the country who give generously to the foundation.
The foundation, as Mills put it, “would not be complete without the help of FedEx.”
“We have teamed up with FedEx since the program started,” said Mills.
The Christmas Spirit Foundation Troops For Trees program is a long, three-week logistical process, as Mills described it.
Through national and a handful of state Christmas tree associations, the foundation contacts tree growers from across the country.
Once identified, and how many will be donated, FedEx will take it from there. The company’s freight division will send out drivers to these locations across the country, pick up the trees and deliver them at any installation needed, including international locations, free of charge.
“We work with around 800 Christmas tree growers,” said Mills. “Collectively, they all donate at least 17,000 a year. They are even able to get these trees to Spain and Kuwait. They’re awesome.”
Kelly Marro, the Area 4-5 MCCS coordinator, which covers 6th and 10th Marine Regiments, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and 2nd Tank Battalion, was responsible for coming up with the idea to let the units handle the trees.
“I talked with Col. Brad Hall, the 10th Marines (commanding officer) about using the 10th Marines area to set up an area to hand out the trees,” said Marro. “He liked the idea, and so did (1st Battalion, 10th Marines) CO, who allotted for two 7-ton trucks to bring more than 200 trees back.”
Hall, who remembers the charity from MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif., said when Morro spoke of the idea to host the tree pickup, it immediately reminded him of how the charity was run on the west coast.
“This is all about getting Marines the right benefits,” said Hall. “This will be the direction for the future, here.”
Mills said that she does not see the program going anywhere. No matter the economy, Trees For Troops will keep growing.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling to provide such happiness to families who normally wouldn’t have a Christmas tree this time of year,” said Mills. “Our tree growers love it. I can see it going on forever.”
For more information, visit www.christmasspiritfoundation.org/programs/trees4troops/home.htm.