Story by PS3 Kitara Byerly, Navy Reserve Forces Command
GULFPORT, Miss. - The Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) staff at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Miss. brought holiday cheer to the installation and its military families during the NCBC Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Holiday Festival, Dec. 1, 2017.
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Naval Construction Battalion Center staff unload trees in preparation for the 2017 NCBC Christmas Tree lighting ceremony and Holiday Festival tonight at the Youth Activity Center from 6 - 8 p.m. The 100 fresh-cut Christmas trees are free for active duty members to pick up tonight. (U.S. Navy photo by Brian Lamar)
The Seabee base's Christmas Tree Lighting and Holiday Festival is an annual event and along with tradition is officiated by NCBC's commanding officer. This year Capt. William Whitmire, commanding officer of NCBC kicked off the ceremony.
People really look forward to the Christmas Tree Lighting each year. It's a wonderful event for the community," said Whitmire.
The Can Do spirit was realized in this bright and warm festival as snow does not fall in the South where it was 60 degrees outside. MWR made the impossible happen by creating a winter wonderland in Mississippi staged snow machines bringing snow flurries to families far from the North. First time on ice experiences were also created as a 35-foot tall inflatable castle snowman towered above an ice skating rink where the ice skates were also provided.
As the crowd thickened, it was noted that more than 1000 children from the base and surrounding community attended this year's celebration. The crowds gathered to enjoy photos with Santa, donated Christmas trees for active duty military families, games, and of course a variety of vendor food. Families were dazzled by the sight of MWR's gift of 3-D glasses that delivered an extra element to spectators when viewing the tree. The immersive glasses brought smiles and amazement when viewers looked upon the tree complete with a view of dancing sugarplum fairies and snowflakes.
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A 35-foot tall bounce castle snowman towers above the ice skating rink at NCBC Gulfport MWR s annual Christmas Tree Lighting Event Dec 1st, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Kitara Byerly)
On the far stretches of the festival three fire pits were lit where participants could roast marshmallows for s'mores. The s'mores table and hot coals were manned by MWR volunteers who smiled as they distributed the ingredients to the sweet camp fire classic to adults and children lining up.
In the air, the Harrison County High School Choir could be heard serenading families as they walked through the Christmas Village. The Gulfport Chief and Petty Officer Association brightly decorated their tents where they offered hot chocolate, cookies, and treats for fundraising.
All activities were provided free of charge by MWR. The staff and volunteers add new elements to the festival every year.
For those that were far from their deployed family members, thoughts and prayers were shared for the Seabees that are currently forward deployed, that they may enjoy a safe holiday season and return home soon.
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Senior Chief Chester Urbati (USN Retired) (left), served the Seabees from 1952-1993. Utilitiesman 2nd Class Adrian Montes of 7th Naval Construction Regiment enjoyed the carolers, games and food booths. (U.S. Navy photo by Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Kitara Byerly)