Holiday music echoed on Fort Rucker's Howze Field Dec. 5, as soldiers, families and the community gathered to spread holiday cheer and celebrate the beginning of the holiday season during the post's 11th annual Christmas tree lighting.
"It's a great way to start the season and get people excited about Christmas," Kristi Fink, Fort Rucker special events coordinator, said.
The ceremony featured music by the 98th Army 'Silver Wings' Band, the announcement of the 2013 Families of Excellence and ornament contests winners, carolers singing and a special guest from the North Pole.
Fort Rucker Garrison Commander Col. Stuart McRae welcomed everyone and reminded them to remember the deployed soldiers who can't be home with their families and friends during the holiday season.
"I'd like to remind everybody to remember those from our ranks that can't be here tonight because of ongoing deployments," he said. "Keep those serving (out) of harm’s away along with their families. Our thoughts and prayers (are with them) this holiday season."
McRae also took time to recognize the 2013 Military Family of Excellence.
Families were nominated for the Families of Excellence contest based on their contributions to soldiers, civilians and their families in their organization, unit or workplace and the Fort Rucker community as a whole.
This year's winner was the Eblen family — father and company executive officer for E Company 1st-212th Aviation Regiment Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joval, his wife Irene and their children, Divina, 10, Isabella, 9, Isaiah, 8, and Maribel, 6.
"In recognition of your thoughtful and selfless service in support of the Fort Rucker community, your care and concern has enhanced the quality of life for soldiers, civilians and their family members," McRae read from a certificate to the family. "Your willingness and commitment to share your resources and time is truly commendable and reflects the great credit upon you, the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and the U.S. Army. Thank you very much."
McRae and Fort Rucker Deputy Commander Col. Robert Doerer presented the family with a certificate and several gifts from the post.
"I don't really do much (more) than anybody else in the installation, except support the war fighter training," Joval said. "But (my wife) obviously does a lot of things above and beyond."
Irene became emotional and said her family is very grateful to have received the recognition.
"We found (we) have gained a lot of strength being a military family," she said. "We just enjoy our military life and try to share that. (We) encourage others to have a great time being a military family. So we're really excited."
Before lighting the tree, McRae also announced the handmade ornament contest winners who helped decorate the post's tree.
Fort Rucker’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Services hosted the ornament contest.
This year's winners were Savannha Conner, 3-5 year-old category, Charlotte Burch, 6-8 year-old category and Eden Grimes, 9-11 year-old category.
The winners were each presented with a Christmas tree trophy and a gift basket.
Immediately following the announcement of the contests winners, the Eblen family joined Doerer in lighting the grand tree.
Once the tree was lit, children began singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" leading up to the jolliest man on earth's arrival.
Within moments sirens could be heard coming down 5th Avenue as Santa Claus appeared to the children's delight with his elves on a fire truck.
Santa then made it around the Christmas tree handing out candy canes and hearing the children's wishes.