11/22/11 — A little extra help for local families

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A little extra help for local families

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 22, 2011 1:46 PM

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4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doherty stands in front of his wife, Dee Dee, after taking off the first angel from the Angel Tree at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base commissary.

Her eyes fixated on one of the paper ornaments dangling off a Christmas tree that had been positioned in the lobby of the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base commissary, Dee Dee Doherty reached out her hand.

Moments later, she studied the card she had removed from one of the branches -- smiling as she looked over at the Air Force officer standing next her.

"I got a 5-year-old girl," she said to her husband.

"You did?" he replied. "I got an 18-year-old boy."

They had shown up, in part, to lead by example -- to send a message to members of the 4th Fighter Wing that the holiday season is about something far more powerful than any one person.

But the truth is, Col. Patrick Doherty and his wife would have pulled a child's wish list off the base Angel Tree even if they weren't the wing commander and its first lady.

"It touches everybody's heart to help out families," Doherty said. "It's a chance for us to give those young kids the same opportunities we had during Christmas. No kid should be robbed of that."

If the Angel Tree program matches the successes it has enjoyed since it was created several years ago, the more than 40 Air Force children represented on those cards will experience a Christmas morning they might not have otherwise known.

And for Doherty and his command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Blake Malpass, making a tangible difference in the lives of military families is a reward in itself.

"Seven days a week, we're thinking about taking care of our airmen, but this is kind of special," Doherty said.

Malpass nodded his head.

"Because it's for the kids," he added.

Those Wayne County residents with access to the base who want to participate in the program -- although there are currently only 41 "angels," more will likely be added to the tree, as applications will be accepted until Dec. 8 -- are asked to simply walk into the Base Exchange and pull a card from the tree.

"You can grab an angel off the tree, head on into the BX, grab the gifts and we have a drop box by the exit," said 1st Lt. Cassie Cosentino, the airman in charge of the program. "You just need to return the angel with the present."

And if every person with a giving heart does just that, Christmas morning will come to those who would likely otherwise have to make do with a modest celebration.

"Every angel on the tree is a child who has been recognized by first sergeants as coming from a needy family," Cosentino said. "So we're hoping for a really successful year."