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Operation Evergreen spreads Christmas joy to military overseas

A Christmas tree farm in Iowa, United States. (United States Department of Agriculture: National Resources Conservation Service/Released)

Thousands of servicemen and women stationed across the Middle East will experience a little touch of home this holiday season courtesy of Operation Evergreen.

The Ohio Christmas Tree Association program shipped 100 Christmas trees this year to U.S. military units, bases and other sites.

“This group could do 300 trees. We just don’t have enough money,” said Amy Galehouse, coordinator of Operation Evergreen and owner of Galehouse Tree Farms in Doylestown.

The program began in 1995 when 29 trees were sent to troops serving in Bosnia. Since then, an estimated 5,000 trees have been sent to places such as Kosovo, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army Central Command in Columbus handles shipping for Operation Evergreen, but the association has had to cover the cost of shipping since 2012. Previously, shipping costs were funded by sending the trees through the military distribution center and then by a commercial carrier from 2005 to 2011.

The association is still seeking $2,500 in donations to cover this year’s shipping costs. If the group is fortunate enough to collect extra funds, the money will be carried over and applied to the next year’s expenses.

Donations can be made through a GoFundMe page which can be found on the group’s website, Checks made out to OCTA-Operation Evergreen also can be sent to the Ohio Christmas Tree Association, 6870 Licking Valley Road, Frazeysburg, Ohio, 43822.

“The goal is to make sure there are trees,” said Galehouse, whose group supplies trees to one of the six U.S. military areas in the world.

The Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division helps to distribute the trees. Galehouse has a binder almost three inches thick of responses she has received from service people whose base was spruced up by a Christmas tree sent from Operation Evergreen.

“The MWR was kind enough to give us a tree for the Christmas holiday and with our USO volunteers, we were able to decorate it!” wrote Erin Corcoran, a USO duty manager who was serving in Iraq. “Every person who has seen the tree has been pleasantly surprised and exclaimed, ‘How’d they even get this over here?’ It means a lot out here to see some normal Christmas-time cheer.”

Capt. Jason Coats of the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq said military personnel enjoyed setting up the tree and decorating it.

“I look forward every morning to coming in and turning its Christmas lights on,” he wrote.

Volunteers spend the day after Veterans Day stuffing boxes full of five and a half to six-foot Canadian firs at the Ohio Department of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg. This year’s trees came from 26 Christmas tree farms across Ohio including 17 trees from Galehouse, who also donated 60 boxes for packing.

The trees are compressed to a circumference of 12 inches inside the box, allowing extra room to pack handmade ornaments, decorations and Christmas cards made by students, civic groups and private citizens. One year, a group of school children recorded themselves singing Christmas carols and the CDs were stuffed into the boxes.

Volunteers who help stuff the boxes include military veterans or families whose loved ones are serving or served overseas. Some volunteers include veterans who served on a base that previously received a tree from Operation Evergreen. One teacher brought her class of 45 students to help pack trees this year.

An extra eight trees that couldn’t be shipped were sent to local homeless shelters.

The association has 120 Christmas tree farm members. Many farmers work part time and started farming when they retired, needed extra money to put their children through school, or wanted to do a project with their significant other. They also come from a variety of professional backgrounds including teaching, engineering, medicine and churches.

“If you go to a farm and you trip and fall in a meeting, there will be at least one physiotherapist, three doctors, a minister to pray over you, and at least 25 engineers who will tell you how to fix it so it doesn’t happen again,” Galehouse said.

She added that none of them are seeking recognition for their contributions to Operation Evergreen.

“If you ask why we do this, we do it for the guys overseas, without a question,” Galehouse said.

The Ohio Christmas Tree Association is one of the oldest, organized groups sending Christmas trees overseas to troops. Due to its success, it was used as the model for Trees for Troops in 2005.

A program of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, Trees for Troops provides farm-grown Christmas trees to armed forces members in all branches of the military and their families. FedEx delivers thousands of trees each year to more than 70 military bases in the U.S. and overseas.


© 2019 The Daily Record