Physical training at 6 a.m. on a bitterly cold, dark November morning is never a welcome thing, unless its accompanied by Jingle Bells, candy canes and Soldiers draped in miniature light strings all for a good cause.
Members of the 555th Triple Nickel Engineer Brigade took part Nov. 21 in their annual brigadewide toy march to benefit Santas Castle, a Joint Base Lewis McChord nonprofit providing holiday gifts to children of military families in financial crisis.
Santas Castle President Lisa Bennett said the need this year for toys is even greater than last year since the organization is helping almost twice as many families.
Were serving between 1,200 and 1,300 families, and 3,700 kids, Bennett said. We had only about 2,000 kids last year.
The 3-mile walk from Able Field behind the 555th Engr. Bde. headquarters wound through Lewis North to the American Lake Conference Center where trucks and troops were stationed to collect the toys. Many Soldiers were dressed in festive attire, including Santa Claus costumes and reindeer hats.
Sapper Company commanders Capt. Nathan Foust and Capt. Jim Perkins wore their ugliest Christmas sweaters.
The funny thing is we didnt plan this, laughed Foust, who works closely with Perkins. I also have a sportcoat in Clark Griswold plaid.
Each of the approximately 1,000 Soldiers marching some experiencing their own financial hardships had purchased a new toy to donate. Many, like 1st Lt. Laura Oten, bought multiple gifts. She contributed two of her favorite childhoold items a Hungry, Hungry Hippos board game and the Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham.
Kids should have toys to open on Christmas, Oten said. Anything helps.
The march marked the 15th year of support for Santas Castle by Soldiers of the Triple Nickel, said Col. Nicholas Kater, brigade commander.
Were usually the biggest one day contribution, Katers said. These are toys for kids of service members, so were giving back and paying it forward.
It is one of the biggest donations we get of the season, Bennett said. They always come through. We know we can always count on them.
With Triple Nickel opening the march to family members and pets, Katers said he was happy with the turnout.
I love the fact that weve got so many families and dogs out here, Katers said. I appreciate everyones efforts.
In all, the 555th Engr. Bde. donated 1,942 toys worth $15,286.
Santas Castle volunteers will begin distributing items to families on Monday, but Bennett said they take toy donations throughout the year. They are still in need of items for infants and toddlers, 10- to 13-year-old boys and girls, and board games for ages 6 and up. Items should be new, unopened and unused. Monetary donations are also accepted. Santas Castle is located on Lewis Main in Building T-6191 on the corner of Pierce Avenue and North 21st Street.