- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) - Hundreds of kids lined up outside Division Headquarters on Tuesday at Fort Campbell for a chance to see Santa.

The event, hosted by the post’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, offers a chance for the families at Fort Campbell to ring in the holiday season every year on Dec. 1.

Lines snaked around inside McAuliffe Hall and streamed outside as the post held a tree lighting ceremony before the kids had a chance to take a picture with Santa.

Marty Sims, sponsorship manager with MWR, said they estimate about 1,500 to 2,000 families come each year for the occasion. The Winter Wonderland exhibit outside the headquarters building was scrapped this year because weather in previous years made it too difficult on scheduling. Sims said they also wanted to be able to keep most of the families inside because of cold weather.

“For the past couple of years, it was ice, rain or snow,” Sims said.

She said they might consider bringing it back in the future.

“I enjoy doing something like this,” Sims said. “Being around the soldiers is really special for me because I know I’m serving those young soldiers.”

Tuesday’s visit with Santa was the second time the Benitez family attended. The kids’ father, Keila Benitez said, is currently deployed during the holiday season. Benitez said after arriving at 4:30 and waiting in line about 45 minutes, it was “worth the wait.”

“Seeing the Christmas trees, the songs, it really impresses the kids,” she said.

After visiting with Santa, each kid was given two toys, courtesy of Operation Homefront.

Val Amadon, the director of programs for Operation Homefront’s Tennessee and Kentucky office, said this is the third year the organization has been able to donate the toys. Operation Homefront will host its annual Holiday House from Dec. 7-11 to donate more toys to the military families in the area.

For many of the families, this time of year is one they take time to spend together, as the soldiers are getting ready to deploy after the new year or have just returned during the fall.

Garrison commander Col. Rob Salome, who was at Tuesday’s event, said the families are going through a lot of the same thing with deployments. Tuesday was a chance to bring those families together and a “way of making it special for everyone,” he said.

The families, he said, “have a certain appreciation for what they’re dealing with.”

“We’ve lived this lifestyle together,” he said. “And we want to be resilient families … this is having that strong community network.”

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Information from: The Leaf-Chronicle, https://www.theleafchronicle.com

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