Military Families Enjoy ‘Operation Christmas’ In Georgia

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

HINESVILLE, Ga., Dec. 20, 2006 – Santa Claus and some of his friends visited a National Guard armory in this Georgia town today to bring early holiday cheer to more than 200 military families.
The occasion was “Operation Christmas,” a campaign sponsored by the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, the Wal-Mart retail store chain and Operation Homefront. Operation Homefront is a non-profit organization that provides assistance to military families while servicemembers are deployed.

America Supports You showcases the efforts of American individuals, non-profit groups and corporations in supporting military men and women.

The Hinesville event was the last in a series of six held across the country to honor military families.

Children and parents had their pictures taken with Santa. They also enjoyed holiday music and cookies, as well as games and presents of toys like stuffed bunnies, radios and games.

U.S. Army Cpl. Joseph Glover, his wife, Rachel, and their children Alexis, 4, Caeden, 3, and 3-month-old baby Camereon collected a bevy of goodies while navigating through the “Operation Christmas” tent set up on the armory’s grounds.

Rachel Glover said her husband, a 3rd Infantry Division soldier stationed on nearby Fort Stewart, was serving in Iraq last Christmas. She praised America Supports You, Operation Homefront and Wal-Mart for providing Operation Christmas for servicemembers and their families.

“I think this is wonderful. It really warms my heart that you’re supported 100 percent, with our troops being overseas,” she said.

Caitlyn Bass, a 13-year-old Army family member, wore a big smile after visiting Santa and receiving a new radio. “This is good,” she said, “because you get to get gifts from Wal-Mart.”

Rosalind Brewer, Wal-Mart’s vice president for operations in Georgia, said Operation Christmas is a good way to honor servicemembers and their families. Brewer said her company is honored to co-partner the program with America Supports You and Operation Homefront.

“We hope all of you have the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Year’s from the bottom of our hearts,” Brewer told the gathered military families.

Thousands of Wal-Mart employees are in the military and serving overseas, Nick Agarwal, the corporation’s vice president of communications, said.

“We wanted to put a program together that shows we care,” Agarwal said.

Retired National Basketball Association player Dominique Wilkins was also at the event, showing that he cares, too. Wilkins chatted with military families and provided autographed photos. The former Atlanta Hawks’ player and nine-time all-star said he felt good about being part of Operation Christmas.

“We owe it to servicemembers and their families to show that we care and understand what they’re going through,” Wilkins said. “They stand on the front lines to make sure that we’re okay.”

Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison, greeted servicemembers and their families at the Hinesville event.

“What’s happening today is exactly the goal of America Supports You,” Barber said. “It is a matter of helping corporate America partner with grassroots groups for one reason, and that’s to be able to actually help the military members and their families.”

Events like Operation Christmas constitute “a perfect scenario for the America Supports You program, because that’s what it is about,” Barber said.

Operation Homefront depends on corporate sponsors like Wal-Mart to put on such events like Operation Christmas, said Amy Palmer, Operation Homefront’s executive vice president of operations.

Amid all the festivities at the armory, ABC’s television show, “Good Morning America,” interviewed Army wife Kimberly Fontenot, whose husband, Sgt. Dirk Fontenot, is serving in Iraq. The show set up a live feed so Kimberly could see and talk with her husband during the broadcast.

“I’m excited. I got to see my husband, and that’s what it was all about for me, getting to see him,” said Fontenot, who’s expecting to give birth to a baby girl in less than five months. “I really appreciate what they did for us today,” she said. “This is nice.”

Good Morning America host Mike Barz interviewed the Fontenots. Barz said his father was an Army and Vietnam War veteran who’d been stationed at Fort Stewart in the early 1970s. “I’m an Army brat, so I kind of understand a little bit about what these families are going through,” he said.

Mary Perdue, wife of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, made a special appearance. She praised servicemembers and their families for their contributions to the nation and wished them all a happy holiday season.

“Georgia has always been a patriotic state, and support for our military is strong,” Georgia’s first lady said. “Sonny and I will always do everything in our power to lift up the military, to support it, to take care of our troops and our families.”