U.S. troops are disappearing from Iraq, but they are still deployed in more than 150 countries, including Afghanistan, Kuwait, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Cuba and Italy. In fact, about 173,000 U.S. troops are overseas on land or on ships and some of them are from El Dorado County. When Christmas comes this year, those El Dorado County troops will celebrate with a little piece of home, courtesy of Trees for Troops, a collaborative effort between Larry and Geri Hyder of Indian Rock Tree Farm, El Dorado County Realtor’s Association, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, school children, the Boys & Girls Club, Retired Teacher’s Association and many more community members.
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Trees for Troops began as an idea of former El Dorado County supervisor Carl Borelli during the Vietnam War. Working with Larry Hyder, owner of Indian Rock Tree Farm, the program sent tabletop-sized Silvertip fir trees to El Dorado County troops deployed overseas. Hyder was a willing collaborator, having welcomed packages from wife, Geri, while he was deployed in Korea in the 1950s.
Through the years, the program has grown and become more defined and, for 35 years, the Hyders have put together and mailed the boxes containing the Silvertips, letters of support from students and community members, ornaments from Boys & Girls Club members and Scout troops, small gifts, fudge from Abel’s Acres, toothbrushes, neck coolers, popcorn, stuffed animals and anything else that fits in the box that people want to donate. Even the containers themselves are a gift from Barry at the UPS store on Broadway.
The trees have been sent to Forward Operating Bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, to jungles in Vietnam, to ships, and even to Iran during the 444-day hostage crisis when American soldiers and civilians were held hostage by Iranian students who had taken control of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
“We were watching the television coverage of the hostage crisis and we saw them delivering our trees through the bars,” said Geri. “That was really wonderful.”
The Hyders, who recently celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary, have received letters from troops stationed all over the world, thanking them for the trees that smell of home and especially for the cards and letters of support from the community. “Those letters mean so much to them,” said Geri. “They don’t feel forgotten. It’s easy to forget what is still going on and that we still have boys and girls in peril.
Last year, a tree from El Dorado County was received by Independent Duty Corpsman Jeffrey Rollman aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu on his way to Timor in Indonesia. That tree was placed in the ship pharmacy for all to share. Another soldier’s mother wrote that her son had received a tree and was amazed by all of the things the community managed to stuff into the box. Most of the trees and decorations are shared in a common area, so that everyone can share in the feeling of home.
If you have a loved one from El Dorado County deployed overseas, please send Geri Hyder his or her name and address by the first week in November. E-mail the information to her at [email protected] or call 530-622-4087. The earlier the better and e-mail is preferred. People who wish to donate for postage (each box costs about $20 to send), can e-mail Geri or call Indian Rock.
The federal government may be shut down but soldiers are still on duty. The War on Terrorism is still happening; U.S. troops are still risking their lives all over the world.
“This is a community supported project; not just our project,” said Hyder. “Over time people can lose enthusiasm for projects, but our community never loses enthusiasm for this one.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.