News: Michigan couple sends holiday cheer to Iraq
By Sgt. 1st Class Rick Emert
1st Air Cavalry Brigade Public Affairs
TAJI, Iraq – Although a white Christmas is out of the question, the holiday season will be a little homier for Soldiers deployed here thanks to a couple from Ludington, Mich., and a sergeant major from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
Jim Nickelson and his wife, Beth, sent two Fraser fir trees to the 1st ACB to bring holiday cheer to the frontlines, Nickelson said.
"Hopefully it brightens their mood for a period of time while they're away from their families" for the holidays, he said in an email from Ludington.
The Nickelsons' Needlefast Evergreens farm is adjacent to the childhood home of Sgt. Maj. Della St. Louis, the brigade operations sergeant major.
St. Louis, for the third consecutive year, arranged for the shipment of the holiday trees that the Nickelsons donated. The first was during the 1st ACB deployment from 2004 to 2005, and she had trees sent to 3rd Infantry Division which served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, she said.
"We are so far away from friends and families, and this is something that brings togetherness around the holidays," St. Louis said. "It's just something that I can do for Soldiers."
The Nickelsons pay for the customs inspection and donate the trees, and St. Louis pays the shipping costs.
"All trees going out of the country have to be inspected" by the state agriculture inspector, Nickelson said. "It's not a hard process, but the ... inspector is very busy, and he does help me the best that he can."
The two packages were Christmas in a box when they arrived in late November. Within a couple of days, the trees were up and decorated at the administrative/logistics and tactical operations centers.
"When they opened the boxes, the smell of pine brought me right back to home," said Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Hernandez, from Killeen, Texas, assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of the Aviation Defense Operations Center.
Hernandez is from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB, 1st CD. "When I'm home for Christmas, we have a live tree, and we decorate all that we can. It's all about the Christmas spirit."
For others, the trees were a new holiday experience, St. Louis said.
"There are some people here who have never had a real tree before," St. Louis said. "They had it here for the first time. It brings peace to them and gets them excited about the holiday. They are like kids at Christmas time."
Nickelson, who sends other holiday trees to local men and women who are now serving in the Armed Forces, said the donations are a way of thanking those who serve.
"I didn't serve in the Armed Forces myself, and my wife and I feel it's the very least we can do to provide a small slice of home, or perhaps some of the Christmas spirit that they might have had if they had been home," Nickelson said.