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Operation Santa puts the happy in ‘Happy Holidays’

Spc. James Santandrean, Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, and his wife, Sabrina, take a family photo with Santa and their children, Arieanna, Trinaty, Blayne, Theodore and Jordan, during Operation Santa put on by the Fort Rucker Sgt. Audie Murphy Club Dec. 6. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Spc. James Santandrean, Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, and his wife, Sabrina, take a family photo with Santa and their children, Arieanna, Trinaty, Blayne, Theodore and Jordan, during Operation Santa put on by the Fort Rucker Sgt. Audie Murphy Club Dec. 6. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: December 11, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 11, 2014) -- The holiday season is a time for cheer and good tidings, but it can also be a time filled with stress and financial burdens.

That’s why Fort Rucker Sgt. Audie Murphy Club Soldiers went above and beyond in doing their part to help relieve some of the financial burden of the gift-giving season by providing gifts for children of military families on post with Operation Santa Dec. 6.

“I really like that (Fort Rucker and the Audie Murphy Club) do this for families because a lot of bases don’t put a lot of emphasis on something like this. I think it’s really great because it’s a great thing to bring all of the families together,” said Kristy Schoonmaker, Army spouse. “It takes a lot of pressure off the parents because they can go together and get all of this done. It’s really cool for the kids, too. We really like it.”

Kristy’s husband, CW2 Dan Schoonmaker, E Company, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment, agreed.

“It takes a lot of that pressure off and eases some financial burdens, as well as the hassle of having to go shopping,” he said. “Also, it was so easy and there wasn’t a long line, so we came in and it was a really nice process.”

Children between the ages of 2-15 years old were able to pick out gifts, including one big-ticket item, two books and two stocking stuffers, and children under 2 were even provided with one book and two stocking stuffers, according to Sgt. 1st Class, Soraya Bacchus, Sgt. Audie Murphy Club president for the Fort Rucker chapter.

“Operation Santa is an annual event that we’re doing – the first year was last year – and our intent is to help those families with financial hardship,” she said. “One of the things that the club stands for is giving back to the community, and it’s what Audie Murphy was all about – giving back, selfless service and not expecting anything back in return. It’s one of our pillars of the club, so it’s important for us to be able to jump at the opportunity to do that if it presents itself.”

About 180 children were registered to receive gifts for this year’s program, an increase from the previous year, and unlike last year, gifts, grants and donations were provided by various organizations rather than Soldiers.

The Fort Rucker Thrift Shop provided a grant, Operation Homefront donated more than 400 stocking stuffers, Blue Star Families donated 400 brand new books and First Command also provided donations to help the cause.

Last year, Soldiers donated toys during a post run, but this year the donation process was changed to make the gift giving process more fluid, said Sgt 1st Class, Loshana Alexander, Sgt. Audie Murphy Club vice president for the Fort Rucker chapter.

“We didn’t want to have to ask Soldiers to give to a program that was meant to benefit them,” she said.

Another thing that sets Operation Santa apart from other gift giving organizations is that there are no criteria for a Soldier’s name to be submitted for the program.

“It’s not rank specific,” said Bacchus. “Oftentimes, we tend to cater to the E4s and below, but there are senior Soldiers out there who are suffering from financial hardships, so we wanted to keep it open and that’s when the leadership comes in for assessing the needs of their Soldiers.”

“We just wanted to do what we could to help relieve some of that strain from the holiday season, no matter what rank,” added Alexander.

No matter who is receiving gifts, both Bacchus and Alexander stressed that it’s all about selfless service and giving back.

“On a personal level, this event is really exciting and it’s all we’ve been talking about and thinking about for a while,” said the Fort Rucker chapter president. “This is a big event for us and there was really a lot of excitement because we were so eager to see the looks on the kids faces. We had a lot of fun putting this together.”

“It’s good to be able to help when you know that people could be having a hard time and it’s good that their leadership took the time to recognize that their Soldier could be having a hard time and submitted their name to take advantage of the program,” added Alexander. “It’s always a great feeling to just be able to lend a helping hand, especially around the holidays.”

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/139853/

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