Fort Riley, Kansas



Rally Point ribbon-cutting ceremony kicks off 33rd year of Operation Santa Claus

By Season Osterfeld | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | November 10, 2017


     The former bingo hall has been converted into a festive wonderland for children of all ages through the efforts of volunteers and Santa’s elves.

      Operation Santa Claus is in its 33rd year. The annual program helps service members and their families provide gifts to their children with the support from donations and volunteers at Fort Riley and within the surrounding communities.

     “The continued success of this program relies solely upon the generosity of the citizens of Fort Riley (and) our communities within the Flint Hills region,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Fuqua, operations noncommissioned officer for the Directorate of Plans, Training Mobilization and Security and one of the lead elves for Operation Santa Claus. “As you see the volunteers out there in the communities asking for donations, please remember what they represent.”

      When Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin, 1st Infantry Di­vision and Fort Riley com­manding general, spoke to the audience, he also reinforced the importance of Operation Santa Claus volunteers.

     “There’s a lot of volunteers who put their time into this,” he said. “A lot of volunteers with a lot of passion and you can’t do an effort like Opera­tion Santa Claus without the great volunteers.”

      He also told the story of a hypothetical Soldier of any rank. One he said who wanted to make a difference in the world around them, one who wanted to be one in 300 to serve their country voluntarily and one who took an oath to defend their fellow Americans. Martin spoke of the sacrifice and bravery they showed and what their fami­lies gave up too. He said pro­grams like Operation Santa Claus are a way for everyone to show their appreciation for them.

     “That Soldier, each Soldier has different means to provide for their family,” Martin said while choking back on his emotions. “We have Soldiers out there that made that same commitment that I made, that you made if you’re in uniform and if you’re a spouse that you made when you decided to marry that Soldier, you married into that family. That Soldier because of the size of their family, their personal situation or because of the amount of money that they make may not have the opportunity to share the same Christmas that you and I get to share without children. We’ve all watched, there’s not a soul here, who hasn’t been the recipient of that special gift that means so much. More important than that, there’s not one of us here who hasn’t had the opportunity to give to somebody and see how powerful that is for that child to be able to receive that gift. It’s magic. Giving is way, way more rewarding than receiving.”

     Once Martin concluded his speech, the elves, who are all Soldiers volunteering with Operation Santa Claus, led the crowd in singing “Here Comes Santa Claus.” As more people joined in, a fire engine from the Fort Riley Fire and Emergency Services pulled up around the corner and dropped Santa Claus off to greet everyone and lead them into his workshop for a tour, snacks and photos.

     Jennifer Infante, wife of Spc. Erik Correa, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, said she came over to the rib­bon cutting after seeing a post about it on Fort Riley’s Face­book page.

      She said she and her 3-year-old son knew noth­ing about it, but wanted to investigate and learn more. She and her family are new arrivals to Fort Riley and her husband is deployed, so she said she wants to understand more about what the installa­tion has to offer.

     “It’s amazing,” she said of Operation Santa Claus after the ceremony. “Absolutely amazing all the things that they do for the kids … It’s important to keep the little Christmas tradition going and every child gets a little something.”

      Before leaving from the reception, Infante met with one of the elves to learn more about the program and sign up.

      Operation Santa Claus is one of many programs at Fort Riley that reinforce the strength and importance of support, Martin said.

      “Programs like Operation Santa Claus and others (that) make the holiday season spe­cial for any Soldier, regardless of their means, as it is for any other Soldier, is what this is all about,” he said.


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