Jennie Murch sat on the frigid blacktop at a Fort Gordon parking lot Thursday morning -- her back resting on the fresh-cut Christmas tree she just got for free as part of the Army's Trees for Troops program.
Murch, whose husband works at Fort Gordon, had been left to guard the tree until he returned from a meeting.
As she leaned against her newest holiday decoration, Murch said it will be an especially meaningful holiday because it's the couple's first Christmas since they've married and her first-ever live tree.
"So I'm really excited," she said.
Over the next several hours, soldiers dressed in their Army camouflage were expected to distribute more than 500 of the Douglas fir and spruce trees to soldiers, veterans and their families. Fort Gordon was one of 57 military installations across the nation to receive the trees, which are donated by the Christmas Spirit Foundation, a nonprofit branch of the Christmas Tree Foundation.
Hours before two large FedEx trailers packed with tightly bound trees pulled into the parking lot, men and women lined up in the freezing weather and sipped coffee provided by a roving USO truck.
By 9:30 a.m., the soldiers unloaded a steady stream of trees from the trucks to those waiting nearby. One of them was Master Sgt. Michael Morton, a four-time Purple Heart recipient who has served three combat tours in Iraq. He said the poor economy has made the holidays a difficult time for many people. He said he was glad to help ease those troubles a bit by handing out the trees.
"Here we have a great opportunity to keep the Christmas spirit alive," he said.
Growers from around the country donate the trees, which are distributed by FedEx to installations in 29 states, according to Renee Brent, the outreach coordinator for Fort Gordon's Soldier, and the group's Web site.
As he strapped his 8-foot-tall tree to the top of his Chevrolet Excursion, Staff Sgt. Chris Ciro said his kids asked him to get a good one before he left home.
"I've already got the spot picked out and the stand ready," Ciro said.