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Gold Star family members and volunteers decorated holiday trees with ornaments honoring fallen service members, at the Fort Drum Family Resource Center, Clark Hall, Hays Hall and the Command Sgt. Maj. Southern “Buddy” Hewitt Noncommissioned Officer Academy. Gold Star family members also decorated a memorial tree at the Post Exchange, furnished by Fort Drum Survivor Outreach Services. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Fort Drum Gold Star family members, volunteers
decorate holiday trees to honor fallen Soldiers

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Dec. 1, 2022) – It is a season for giving, but also a time for remembrance. Ashleigh Carlin celebrates the holidays by doing both.

Carlin and other Gold Star family members volunteered their time on Nov. 28 to decorate an “Honor the Fallen” Christmas tree at the Family Resource Center. The tree is an effort to keep the memories of 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers close to the hearts and minds of the Fort Drum community.

“This is about continuing awareness in the community about the sacrifices made by our Soldiers,” Carlin said. “We do this to make sure they are remembered, honored, and it helps to keep their legacy alive.”

The handmade ornaments on Honor the Fallen trees bear names and photos of 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers and other service members who proudly served.

“Having Soldiers’ pictures on the tree can sometimes augment people’s awareness, as that face has now brought that name to life,” Carlin said. “It becomes more real.”

On. Nov. 29, several cadre members joined Carlin in decorating a tree at the Command Sgt. Maj. Southern “Buddy” Hewitt Noncommissioned Officer Academy. She hung an ornament of her brother, Cpl. Michael Pursel, who died in 2007 while serving in Iraq. Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Newman, NCOA commandant, placed an ornament of a friend he first met at the U.S Army Drill Sergeant Academy, Sgt. 1st Class James Moudy.

Newman said he is proud to have hosted an Honor the Fallen tree for the past three years, and he had just spoken to academy students about the tribute and why it is important to remember those who served before them.

“And for the students to see cadre helping with the decorating, it demonstrates ‘Leading by Example,’ and it makes this an even more valuable experience for them to learn from,” he said.

One cadre member looked at all the photos while sorting a stack of ornaments. He said it was difficult to process the fact that they had all lost their lives in the line of duty.

“Most of these Soldiers were young and had a life ahead of them,” Carlin said. “They gave their youth to service because they understood the value and meaning of duty and mission greater than self.”

Staff Sgt. Robert Searles, small group leader, had experienced the deaths of two Soldiers on his first deployment, and he understands the significance that tributes and memorials can have in a community.

“This is very meaningful and I’m glad I was able to help,” he said. “It makes me step back a little bit and appreciate that I can spend the holidays with my family, something these Soldiers don’t get to do.”

Searles said he hopes the junior enlisted Soldiers walking through the NCOA will take the time to reflect on what the tree means to them.

“As they are becoming leaders in the Army, they need to honor the past and understand where the Army came from and what these Soldiers did,” he said. “They also need to help younger Soldiers understand why we do what we do, because we do it for them and for our country.”

The academy was where Carlin launched the initiative in 2020, but it has since expanded to multiple sites on post. In addition to the FRC and NCOA this year, Gold Star family members also decorated trees inside Hays Hall and the Transition Assistance Program office at Clark Hall.

On Dec. 1, the Fort Drum Survivor Outreach Services staff placed a memorial tree at the Post Exchange and invited Gold Star family members to help with the decorations.

“These trees represent gratitude – a core value – for the lives that Soldiers gave to preserve freedom,” Carlin said. “The greatest tragedy of all would be if they or their sacrifices were forgotten."

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Gold Star family members decorate a memorial tree Dec. 1 at the Post Exchange, furnished by Fort Drum Survivor Outreach Services. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Public Affairs Office)