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Left: Tika Farless and Ashleigh Pursel Carlin decorate the Honor the Fallen holiday tree with photos and names of fallen 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers at the entrance of the Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Nov. 29. This is the second year that trees have been placed on post as a reminder of the sacrifices made by Soldiers and to ensure Gold Star families that they remain in the hearts and minds of the Fort Drum community. Right: Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Newman, Fort Drum Noncommissioned Officer Academy commandant, places an ornament of a Soldier he knew on the Honor the Fallen holiday tree Nov. 29 at the NCOA. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)


Holiday trees deliver meaningful message in Fort Drum community

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 29, 2021) – A holiday tree near the entrance of the Fort Drum Noncommissioned Officer Academy serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by Soldiers and a commitment made by this community that they – and their families – will never be forgotten.

Volunteers helped set up the Honor the Fallen holiday tree Nov. 29, and they decorated it with the photos and names of 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers who died in service to their country.

Ashleigh Pursel Carlin, Fort Drum chapter president of Giving Tuesday-Military, said that this particular tree is adorned with the names and faces of fallen enlisted Soldiers – befitting of the facility that provides leadership training for NCOs.

Two trees were decorated on post last year, but Pursel Carlin expanded the project this time to include a third so that every fallen 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldier is represented.

“I am honored to bring the Honor the Fallen tree back to Fort Drum another year,” she said. “As we make plans with our families to gather for the holidays, we are reminded of the absence that Gold Star families endure. It is our hope to assure our Gold Star families that Fort Drum has not forgotten their Soldiers’ sacrifice.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Newman, NCOA commandant, said that he welcomed the return of the Honor the Fallen holiday tree and what it symbolizes for the entire community.

“It’s humbling,” he said. “We have two Gold Star families within the academy, and just seeing the tree here reminds us of them and brings home what their sacrifice means to all of us.”

When Newman placed the ornament bearing Sgt. 1st Class James Moudy’s name on the tree, he was reminded of the friend and colleague he first met at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy. Moudy deployed in 2005 with 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. He was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated underneath his Humvee during a patrol in Baghdad, Iraq.

“For some of our young Soldiers who haven’t had the opportunity to deploy or haven’t experienced the loss of another Soldier, they will see this tree every day,” Newman said. “Some will ask questions and they will hear stories, because there are Soldiers at the academy who knew some of these names on the tree. That’s why this is important.”

One ornament – bearing the name and photo of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti – will be left unhung until Dec. 3. That is when four Soldiers of the current Basic Leaders Course cycle will participate in the Monti Board, and the winner will have the honor of placing the ornament on the tree.

Two more trees will be placed at Clark Hall and the Family Resource Center later this week, but Pursel Carlin already has plans to improve upon the Honor the Fallen project next year.

“I have been in contact with some of the Gold Star families who aren’t local, and they are so excited to see pictures of the trees,” Pursel Carlin said. “They are happy that Fort Drum is thinking of their family during the holidays. What we have done in the past, and what I would like to do next year, is reach out to Gold Star families and ask them if they have a special photo that they would really like to see on the tree. And maybe we’ll see if we can get more trees added next year too.”