Last week I have the most amazing opportunity to join some fellow press (yes, fully fledged press here!) to preview the White House Christmas decorations for 2013. As with many years past many of the decorations reflected support and honor to military members and their families; so it seemed only natural to invite some military families to view those decorations as the official first tour. The administration has done an amazing job at bringing military families to the forefront, and showing us that they are willing to do what they can to improve certain aspects of our life. With the Joining Forces Initiative and Operation Honor Cards, it is clear that this is something here to stay. As a military-connected person that means a lot to me. Sure I went as press, but being there meant something more. To take the time to really look at the ornaments, to speak with some of the other military-connected people that were there as part of the Christmas Decoration Volunteers was an honor.
The trees of the East Landing and the Blue Room were specifically designed to honor those who serve, as well as those who wait. Those walking through the tour come to the Gold Star Tree. Volunteers, including a Gold Star Mother, made star ornaments with woven gold stars in the middle. Ornaments representing each of the five branches. Here visitors can sign postcards that will be sent to our service members overseas; and they can also sign Operation Honor Cards to pledge volunteer hours. This room was difficult for me. I got the chance to speak with one of the volunteers who worked on this tree. She decorated it for her son, Capt Josh Byers, US Army, who gave the ultimate sacrifice in 2003. She proudly wore his picture on a dogtag around her neck, and lovingly rubbed it against her heart as she spoke to me. I’m not ashamed to say I cried, right then and there. She pointed to the ornament with his name on it, and I noticed there were many others on the tree just like his. A stark reminder of the realities of war, mixed with the hope and joy a Christmas Tree brings. They are the reason we are here, that our trees are up and decorated; that the stockings are hung by the fireplaces; and the reason I get to experience the joy with my children. That’s something I don’t take lightly.
The official tree of the White House, located in the Blue Room, is also dedicated to military families. It is adorned with more than 2,000 ornaments, many created by children on bases across the country. They created greeting cards featuring their favorite holiday memories. Photos of homecomings also hung from the branches of the tree. This was probably my most favorite part of the tree. In each smiling face I could see that of my own and my children. There is nothing quite like a homecoming. I don’t want anyone to ever experience a deployment, but the feeling of a homecoming is beautiful and priceless. Fabric ornaments with each state and territory, and one with all of them on there, to me expressed unity. Our country is united in this, in the fact that we are all in this together. Paper mache hearts and hand woven ribbons, each embroidered by volunteers from each state and territory, complete this beautiful tree. I came back to this tree several times, trying not to get in the way of my fellow press peeps. I just wanted to stand there and take it all in, look at every ornament and see every picture.
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It was such an amazing day, an honor and privilege to have been there. On top of all that I mentioned above I had a little fan moment when I met Ari Shapiro, White House Correspondent for NPR, and when a suspicious package was thrown over the fence and I got stuck in the Briefing Room.
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