Families partake in carriage rides during the annual holiday lighting activities Dec. 3 at Zais Park. Photo by Audrey Chappell/Combined Arms Center Public Affairs

Charlotte Richter | Staff Writer

Fort Leavenworth families gathered to watch Cynthia Cook and 7-year-old Melea Cook, the family of Sgt. Justin Cook, turn on the lights during the annual holiday lighting ceremony Dec. 3 at Zais Park.

Combined Arms Center Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Helton applauds as Cynthia Cook and 7-year-old Melea Cook, the family of Sgt. Justin Cook, throw the ceremonial switch with CAC and Fort Leavenworth Commanding General Lt. Gen. Theodore Martin during the annual holiday lighting ceremony Dec. 3 at Zais Park. Photo by Audrey Chappell/Combined Arms Center Public Affairs


The ceremony was live-streamed to Sgt. Cook, who is currently serving a yearlong tour in the Republic of Korea.


Since 1986, a name is added to a plaque on the base of the light switch every year to honor the guests invited to throw the ceremonial switch. Traditionally the family of a soldier and post leaders turn on the lights in Zais Park during the ceremony.


“This is the first time I’ve ever been asked to do something like this,” Cynthia Cook said. “My husband and I have been together for 12 years, so this is our fourth tour. I thought (the ceremony) was pretty cool and great for (Melea). Holiday seasons can be hard, but (the experience) was really cool, and I appreciated the opportunity.”


Cook said she and her daughter have a lot of support from family and friends, which makes the holidays easier.

The gazebo lights up during the annual holiday lighting Dec. 3 at Zais Park. Photo by Audrey Chappell/Combined Arms Center Public Affairs


“I would not get through (deployments) like this without them, and my family that is far away too. I grew up in this life, so I knew what I was marrying into,” she said. “Everyone says it, though (knowing) doesn’t make (deployment) any easier. I love my husband and I miss him dearly every day, so I can’t wait for him to come home.”


The annual lighting event also featured carriage rides, visits with Santa, and performances by the Patton Junior High School choir, the 312th Army Band Quintet and the EDGE! Program.


The Jefferson family said they enjoyed the night together during the holiday season.


Lt. Col Cedrick Jefferson, School of Advanced Military Studies student, and Charease Jefferson attended the ceremony for the first time with their children, 12-year-old Kailee, 6-year-old London and 4-year-old Greyson.

Memorial Chapel lights up during the annual holiday lighting Dec. 3 at Zais Park. Photo by Audrey Chappell/Combined Arms Center Public Affairs


“It’s not often that we’re all together for the holidays,” he said. “Between deployments and training, spending time together is good for the family.”


Lt. Col. Rafael Linera, Mission Command Center of Excellence and Department of Joint, Interagency and Multi-National Operations, Command and General Staff College and Heyda Linera have been attending the post lighting ceremony since 2018 with their three
daughters, 14-year-old Anna, 12-year-old Ella and 10-year-old Ariana.


Ella Linera said the holiday means friendship, peace and joy when the season is spent with family because the memories made during holidays last a lifetime.

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