CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Thousands of military families attended the first Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration at Camp Pendleton on Saturday.
It all started when 5-year-old Briana Gabaut lit the massive Christmas tree in front of the new MCX building.
“My mom put me in a contest, and I won,” Briana said. Her mother, Kayla, is the wife of Sgt. Austin McKinney, based in San Onofre. She entered Briana’s name in a random drawing that selected the first ever Christmas tree illuminator of the inaugural event.
“There are Marines who aren’t going home for Christmas and Thanksgiving,” said Dave Lewis, Deputy Retail Director of MCCS. “So let’s come out here and have some fun!”
“We will have a rotation going out of Camp Pendleton after the holidays are over, heading out to Afghanistan,” said Brigadier General John Bullard. “This is the time where they can spend time with their families and enjoy the holiday season.”
The event came just days after a tragic accident killed four Camp Pendleton Marines. Brigadier General Bullard said the entire military community mourned and honored the lives lost that day. He also hoped Saturday’s event would bring cheer to the base.
Event-goers walked away with lots of freebees. Sponsors gave away free food, carolers provided free entertainment, and organizers were able to get a special guest from the North Pole to provide free photo ops.
“It was very difficult, but he [Santa] was quite cooperative, especially for the Marines,” said Brigadier Bullard.
Organizers say the celebration was a huge success, and hope to make it an annual event.