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Iraq war close to home for area tree farmers

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Looking at the lined-up, wrapped-up row of stacked Christmas trees, the tree farmers started talking business.

One man, wearing a red coat to fend off the Tuesday morning cold, and reflective sunglasses to fend off the bright, morning sun, grabbed a fir tree with two hands. He said, "You use this colored netting, huh, Earl?"

Earl Worthington, owner of Worthington's Tree Farm in Hampton, looked at the red and white netting wrapped around his dark green, freshly cut trees.

"It works pretty good for us," he said.

Another farmer chimed in. "It's all we ever use," he said.

Terrance Wilson didn't say anything.

A lieutenant with the United States Army, he's not an expert in growing Christmas trees and doesn't know the ins-and-outs of wrapping firs for shipping. He was there, though, with the tree farmers, because he knows how important Christmas trees can be, and he knows these Southern Crescent tree farmers are working to support soldiers like him.

They worked side by side, Tuesday morning, loading a long, white FedEx truck with Christmas trees. The trees are going to be donated to the soldiers at MacDill, a Florida Air Force base.

"Last year," Wilson said, "Earl's grandson helped me with my tree. Now, he died -- you know, [improvised explosive devise] -- and I heard about that from some guys who were in Iraq, with him, and I knew I had to be here. I just had to be."

Though all the volunteers helping in the Trees for Troops program, a foundation which is donating more than 15,000 Christmas trees to military families this year, have helped before, the memory of Private First Class Robert Adrian Worthington, a 19-year-old soldier, who died while serving in Iraq, in May, was serving as an added push.

"I've been doing it for three years now," Earl Worthington said, "so I'm not doing it because of my grandson, but it's another reason. I'm just a Christmas tree grower and I appreciate what our servicemen are doing. It's the thing we got to do: Support our servicemen."

Gordon Brown, owner of Brown's Christmas Tree Farm in Hampton, said he keeps tracks of all the Eagle Scouts, in the troop where he volunteers, who are serving in the military. One is serving a third tour in Iraq as a Marine sniper, he said. One is stationed in Germany, one in Asia.

Another farmer commented "that's a good record for your troop," and the conversation turned to the other topic talked about by these Christmas tree growers -- soldiers serving their country.

"Yeah," Brown said, "I've had a nephew over there for a year now, and then there was Earl's grandson. It's close to home, for all the tree farmers around here."