• Zais Park lights up for holidays

  • Several hundred people attended Fort Leavenworth's annual holiday lighting ceremony Dec. 2 at Zais Park.

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  • Several hundred people attended Fort Leavenworth’s annual holiday lighting ceremony Dec. 2 at Zais Park. The festivities began at 4 p.m. and included a performance of holiday music by the brass ensemble of the 312th Army Band, horse-drawn carriage rides, music performed by choirs from post schools, and photograph opportunities with Santa Claus.
    Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, commanding general of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, welcomed distinguished guests, community members and facilitated the lighting of the park.
    “I want to thank all of you for everything you do for our nation and for our soldiers. What we do here at CAC — supporting our soldiers who are deployed and defending our nation, is really critical work — and you do a great job getting it done every day,” Lundy said. “And, to the leaders from our local communities who are here with us, I really appreciate all of the phenomenal support we get from you. With that, and as we go into the holiday season, I wish all of you a merry Christmas and happy holidays. Don’t forget about those who are deployed. And, let’s be thankful that they are keeping us safe today.”
    Tracy Shepard Powell, leader of Fort Leavenworth Girl Scout Troop 5416, was among the adults providing guidance to several Scouts as they managed a vendor table, selling Scout-baked goodies, hot chocolate and coffee. The Scouts traditionally participate each year.
    The Scouts are doing various initiatives like this as part of their fundraising projects that will assist the Leavenworth Animal Welfare Society,” Powell said. “LAWS needs most help with spay and neuter costs.
    This activity also supports efforts toward our Scouts earning the Girl Scout Bronze Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout junior can achieve.”
    Vocal music ensembles from post schools sang traditional Christmas songs, traditional holiday folk music and international selections commonly associated with the holiday season.
    Aaron Hall is the music teacher at Patton Junior High School, where he instructs students in instrumental music, guitar, vocal music and music theory. He is also the student council sponsor.
    “The junior high students are singing some of the musical selections that are very recognizable for the holidays and associated with this time of year. We are even performing additional verses that are not commonly heard performed to some of the songs,” Hall said. “The students have a large repertoire. So, the selections they are singing here are not the same music that will be performed at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 during our winter concert at the school.”
    Mary Fye, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Nathan Fye works at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, attended the tree lighting with her daughter. The family recently returned to Fort Leavenworth after being stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Although we are a returning family, this is our first time attending the tree lighting. It’s a very nice event — community oriented and fun,” she said.
    Daughter Gabrielle Fye is a student at Eisenhower Elementary School and a member of the choir that sang selections before the tree lighting. She said that her favorite part of the event was the music.
    “Singing. I love singing,” Gabrielle said. “ I have two favorites from the music that we are singing, ‘Holly and Ivy and Evergreen’ and ‘When the Lights All Shine.’”
    Zach Stephens, special events coordinator for the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said it is a tradition to have the family of a deployed soldier participate as honored guests in turning on the lights.
    “We have three children helping with the switch this year. Their father, Sgt. James Mburu, is a 68D operating room specialist who has been in the Army for seven years. He is currently deployed to Africa, and will be returning early next year,” Stephens said. “John, Mary and Alice will be joined by their mother, Naomi Mithanga. Naomi loves the fact that she married her hero, someone who is proud to serve and protect America’s freedom. She enjoys living on post and living by the Army Values. John is 14 years old and enjoys participating in track and field. Mary is 12 years old and she enjoys volleyball. Alice is 10 years old and enjoys photography.”
    Fort Leavenworth Garrison Commander Col. Andrew Shoffner said the annual tree lighting tradition was initiated in 1991 by the commanding general and has continued for 25 years. The names of the honored participants are placed on the lighting switch plaque each year.
    “The year 1991 was significant to the founding of our celebration because Operation Desert Storm resulted in Kuwait’s liberation, and the Soviet Union literally dissolved into its individual republics thus, bringing an end to the Cold War,” Shoffner said. “The commanding general said this is the first time our nation has been at peace in 50 years and we need to celebrate that fact. It has grown today to include our honoring those soldiers who are deployed, since we’ve been a nation at war since 2001.”
    Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers participated in the event by working the administration and management of the horse-drawn carriage rides. BOSS President Pfc. Stephanie Jackson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 40th Military Police Battalion (Detention), said the organization was helping keep lines moving efficiently and selling tickets. BOSS Vice President Spc. Benjamin Watts, Medical Department Activity, said that 200 people rode the carriages last year and, based on the number of people from the community in attendance, a similar number was anticipated for this year.
    Page 3 of 3 - “BOSS has been involved with the tree lighting for three years. It is a great opportunity for community service and what the organization mission is about,” Jackson said. “We have more holiday-related events and some training classes coming up. This particular event is a great way to celebrate the holiday season and honor those deployed.”
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