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Fort Drum soldiers donate holiday gifts for military children

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FORT DRUM — A large group of soldiers spent a few hours Wednesday morning delivering toys that will be given to military children as part of the postwide Mountain of Toys program, which is in its 18th year.

Marching in the dark into the early moments of sunrise, about 150 soldiers from the 7th Engineer Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade carried their toy donations about 2.5 miles from their headquarters to the post’s United Service Organizations office.

Capt. Ryan M. Dunbar, commander of the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, said many of the soldiers had returned from deployment in Afghanistan in August and were grateful for the support they had received from the post community.

“It’s important to us to be able to give that kind of support back to thank everybody,” Capt. Dunbar said.

Several of the soldiers wore festive hats during the march, or, in the case of 1st Sgt. Anthony L. Hunsaker, a full Santa Claus suit. He said he had worn the suit for the past three holiday seasons after purchasing it while stationed at Fort Knox, Ky.

The soldiers carried hundreds of items, including board games, sports gear, electronics, remote-controlled cars, large stuffed animals and craft supplies.

“I wish I was that kid waking up on Christmas morning,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jessica D. Hicks as she looked at the donated toys, which engulfed a lone Christmas tree posted against the wall of the lounge. “I’d dive right in.”

The Mountain of Toys program, put on by the Fort Drum Sergeants Major Association, ensures each family on post has at least one toy per child for Christmas.

“It’s an awesome job these soldiers have done today,” said 1st Sgt. Crecencia A. Jeter, who represented the association for the event. “They’re putting a smile on a soldier’s family’s face, and that’s what it’s all about for taking care of families.”

Staff Sgt. Joseph M. Price, master of resiliency training for Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 1st Brigade Combat Team and one of the main organizers of the toy drive, said that in the past month, more than 1,500 toys had been collected, not counting Wednesday’s march.

“We’ve got a good number,” he said.

In addition to units on post, the effort was supported by the post’s Boy Scout troops.

Sgt. Price said the toys would support approximately 830 children who were signed up for the program by soldiers. Soldiers who wish to have their children receive presents have to apply and be approved by their chain of command.

Arthur E. Blakesley, assistant manager with Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes, which helps house the toys before delivery, said the program averages about 800 to 1,000 children per year.

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