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Lighten the mood

Trees on Lewis Main, in Madigan Army Medical Center, glow with the help of the little ones

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:39PM December 12th, 2013
Lighten the mood

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

Audry Hill, 3, helps Col. Ramona Fiorey light the Madigan Medical Center Christmas tree Dec. 5 during a lighting ceremony in the Medical Mall.

The Joint Base Lewis-McChord community welcomed the holiday season with two annual Christmas tree lighting ceremonies Dec. 5. A third took place Dec. 2 at McChord Field.

The lighting of the Douglas fir outside Jensen Family Health and Fitness Center on Lewis Main and the tree inside the Madigan Army Medical Center were celebrated with music, Santa Claus and hot chocolate.

Private First Class Charles Hall, 170th Military Police Company, and his family had never attended a holiday tree lighting ceremony.

It was a new experience for the Halls, who joined the crowd outside Jensen for the festive JBLM community event celebrated every year.

“We’re not having to leave the base and drive 10 to 15 miles,” Hall said. Though there were holiday ceremonies available at surrounding communities, the Halls felt most comfortable celebrating on the installation.

“This is our home,” Hall said.

Families gathered around the tree as Miles King and Friends performed holiday songs, while children and adults sipped hot chocolate.

JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. described the tree lighting ceremony as a chance to reflect on the past and look toward the future.

“Those lights signify the hopes of 2014 and they pay tribute to the blessings in 2013,” Hodges said.

Children were invited to help Hodges turn the red, white and blue lights on. And as the singers finished performing “Here Comes Santa Claus,” good ol’ Saint Nick arrived in front of Jensen — escorted by members of JBLM Fire and Emergency Services — on his red sleigh with candy canes and presents.

Santa made his way to the AFC Arena down Liggett Avenue and joined Mrs. Claus to meet with families whose children waited to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas.

“A Nintendo 3DS,” said Victor Starr, 8.

“And I want a green bike, because that is my favorite color, and I want a blue scooter,” said his younger brother, Zacharias, 3.

Parents were happy to take their families to the tree lighting and after-party as a way to spend time with family as well as others in their neighborhood and JBLM community.

“It gets you in the holiday spirit when you see everybody and have hot cocoa and see Santa,” Heather Forsyth said.

Inspiring children light Madigan tree

Helping to light the Madigan Army Medical Center Christmas tree was a milestone in young Audry Hill’s life. Sitting in her wheelchair, the easy going preschooler who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, flipped a switch to officially welcome the holiday season at the military hospital Dec. 5.

But the milestone wasn’t the tree-lighting honor.

Audry celebrated her third birthday Dec. 2. Her mother, Spc. Kayla Hill, said 95 percent of children who have Audry’s disease never reach the age of 3.

“A typical 3-year-old who sasses me and fights with her sister,” as Kayla called her, Audry was wide-eyed as the tree lit up.

Audry’s disease causes extreme muscle weakness, and although she can’t stand, jump or walk, Audry considers herself vertically challenged and not physically challenged, her mother said.

“She just thinks she’s short,” Kayla said.

The disease isn’t paralyzing in that Audry can still feel her legs, Kayla said, but she just can’t use them. And even though nobody has beaten the disease, Kayla said the family’s perception of Audry’s illness is a positive one.

“She’s living with SMA — she’s not dying,” Kayla said.

Audry and Madigan pediatric patient Kye Johnson joined Madigan commander Col. Ramona Fiorey in the hospital’s medical mall for the tree-lighting ceremony, which included caroling, refreshments and a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, who distributed candy canes.

The ceremony, an annual tradition at Madigan, also served to honor Madigan service members who are deployed and are unable spend the holidays with their families, Fiorey said.