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Master Sgt. Tom Johnson, left, and Master Sgt. Ruth Hutchinson of the Yokota First Sergeants Council wrap Christmas gifts Monday.
Master Sgt. Tom Johnson, left, and Master Sgt. Ruth Hutchinson of the Yokota First Sergeants Council wrap Christmas gifts Monday. (David Westover / U.S. Air Force)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Yokota First Sergeants Council wanted to ensure no child missed out this Christmas.

Continuing a holiday tradition, the base’s “first shirts” last week wrapped more than 300 gifts donated by Yokota community members to the “Angel Tree” program, which benefits children of young airmen, single parents and large families, whether military or civilian. Deployed servicemembers and others facing financial difficulties also were eligible.

“We were looking to help brighten their Christmas … and put a little extra smile on their faces,” said Master Sgt. Tom Johnson, 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron. He helped organize this year’s effort with Master Sgt. Ruth Hutchinson, 374th Operations Group first sergeant.

“We’re always in the business of helping folks outside the gates,” he said. “This is the one time of year we also help our own people. … Each unit was represented. Nobody was left out.”

In mid-November, first sergeants were asked to submit “Angel” cards containing the gender, age and gift preferences of families and children identified within each unit. The council maintained a master list but names were kept confidential.

The cards, handed out in the Yokota Community Center front lobby the day after Thanksgiving, disappeared quickly.

“We scheduled it for two days, but they were gone in four hours,” Hutchinson said. “Anybody could donate and some people took 10 to 15 cards. ALS (Airmen Leadership School) picked up 15.”

Added Johnson, “It shows the generosity of our team.”

Yokota’s Family Support Center, which brought the U.S.-based “Angel Tree” program to Yokota about five years ago, served as a collection point for purchased gifts.

“For the most part, all the gifts showed up” by the Dec. 15 deadline, Johnson said.

A total of 226 children were listed in the assistance drive, he said, but more than 300 presents arrived due to multiple contributions — including toys, clothes, books, CDs and DVDs.

“There was no price limit,” Hutchinson said. “They were all phenomenal gifts.”

Joseph Seunath, 10, offered up his almost-new BMX bike.

“I got too big for it really fast, so I wanted to give it to another boy who could use it,” Joseph said. “I want to follow God’s word, to give and not receive. I felt good that I might have made someone else happy. We washed it up and it looked brand new.”

Added his father, Ganpat Seunath: “We wanted to make someone else happy instead of selling the bike. It is the time of giving.”

Johnson said the gifts were wrapped Monday and delivered to families through unit first sergeants.

“When we gave the gifts to the troops, they were very appreciative and felt blessed,” he said. “They were overwhelmed we even thought of this.”

And the experience was extremely gratifying for the first sergeants, Hutchinson said.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” the master sergeant said. “It’s always a pleasure to give something back to the community.

“It also shows another side of the first sergeants, who are always thought of as being strict and demanding. Maybe this removes that stigma a little.”

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