Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
With the help of Sara Thompson, Child and Youth Services training specialist, and her two daughters, 11-year-old Sophia and 7-year-old Stella, Fort Leavenworth officially lit up for the holidays following the annual holiday lighting ceremony Dec. 6 at Zais Park.
Each year, a family of a deployed soldier is chosen to help with the lighting and their names are engraved on the switch alongside the families from past years.
Thompson’s husband, Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Thompson, 67th Military Police Detachment (Military Working Dog), has been deployed to Afghanistan for the past 11 months. He will return home in January.
Thompson said she and her daughters were excited when they found out they would be helping turn on the lights.
“We’ve been here a long time, eight years, and this is his second deployment out of Fort Leavenworth, so it is definitely an honor to be part of this,” Thompson said. “Fort Leavenworth has a huge place in our hearts.”
Thompson said her family has enjoyed coming to the lighting each year.
“It is such a great opportunity for families,” Thompson said. “When my husband was here, we would come out as a family, ride the carriages and just enjoy some time together.”
Although the lights were not turned on until after dark, hundreds of people filled up the park beforehand.
The event, coordinated by the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, included free hot chocolate from the Fort Leavenworth Commissary, candy canes from Frontier Heritage Communities, a fruit cake toss game provided by Munson Army Health Center, picture opportunities with Santa, horse-drawn carriage rides and more.
Additionally, the evening featured performances from the Patton Junior High School choir; the 312th Army Band; the Bradley, Eisenhower and MacArthur Elementary schools combined choir; and the cast of Edge! Curtain Call’s “Frozen Jr.,” which was performed Dec. 10 at the Post Theater and will be performed again at 7 p.m. tonight.
Before the lights were turned on, Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth commanding general, addressed the crowd.
“This is the fourth Christmas that I’ve had the honor to be able to stand out here with the family to light these lights, and it’ll be our last Christmas, Paula and I, with this great community,” Lundy said. “As I look back over these last three and a half years, I’m very thankful for what all of you do every day for our soldiers. … This place makes a real difference in our Army every day and in our soldiers’ lives and our families’ lives because of the work that you do.
“The thing we’re going to miss the most are the people,” he said. “As we go into this holiday season, think about those things that you’re thankful for, think about those soldiers that are deployed and the soldiers who are no longer here with us and those Gold Star families. This is a special time of year for all of us to be very thankful for all that we have and the blessings that we have and, again, I’m most thankful for all of you.”