Military teen wants to help others, not amass presents, this holiday season

Published: December 10, 2013, 5:35 pm, by Erin Prater


In October I had the pleasure of covering the third-annual “Ornaments for Airmen and Soldiers” event at the Armed Services YMCA in Colorado Springs.

Members of the military community and exercise enthusiasts alike gathered to decorate 1,300 handmade Christmas ornaments for troops stationed away from home but outside of combat zones.

Such troops are often forgotten, especially during the holidays, organizer Laurelee Manchester said.

Unfortunately, I’m rarely able to fit every person I meet into my stories due to space constraints, time constraints or the need to be succinct. Other times I’m not able to include all the neat details I learn about folks, or the photos that I take.

In my story about the ornament-painting event, which you can read here, I mention 13-year-old Gary Larson, the son of an airman deployed to Afghanistan.

cookie2Gary was decorating ornaments in honor of his father, and I was impressed by the care he took when doing so. Using a thin paintbrush, Gary gingerly painted each ornament with water so the glitter he would carefully sprinkle on them would stick. After coating each ornament with water and sparkles, he lightly blew off the excess glitter off each and repeated the process.

Needless to say, it wasn’t what I expected from a teenage boy.

What I didn’t mention in the story was that Gary expects his father home for Christmas.

Having his father gone over the holidays last year was “tough, really tough,” Gary told me. Without his father at home, Gary, like many military kids, felt the need to step up more than usual. That meant taking on more chores at home and making sure he kept his grades up even though his father wasn’t there to encourage him to do so.

I asked Gary what he hoped to do with his father this holiday season.

“I’m hoping that instead of getting lots of presents, that we can donate to the poor or work at a soup kitchen” like the family did last year, Gary said.

I knew that Gary wasn’t your typical teen.

Bonus: Here’s a picture of a cute military kiddo painting ornaments while wearing her dad’s dog tags. Her dad had just returned from Afghanistan, but she still hadn’t been able to part with her favorite necklace.