In military parlance, decorations typically refer to military medals and awards worn on the uniform, representing honorable achievement.
In much the same way, the hand-made decorations that adorn the Tribute to Our Troops tree at the Executive Residence honor the service of deployed Wisconsin service members, as well as the memory of Wisconsin service members who have died.
The Tribute to Our Troops tree dates back at least a decade as a means to remember Wisconsin residents who could not spend the holidays at home due to military service. Wisconsin National Guard members ó first through the Family Assistance Program, and then through the Service Member Support Division ó decorated the tree in time for holiday tours at the Executive Residence.
"This is great," said Master Sgt. Kim Hahn, a member of the 115th Fighter Wing's Force Support Squadron, who was decorating the Tribute to Our Troops tree Nov. 18 for the first time. "I love that the military tree is the first tree that you see when you walk in" the Executive Residence.
For Senior Airman Amanda Lyga, a human resources specialist with the 115th Fighter Wing, decorating the tree is a way to honor veterans of the past, present and future.
"I figured it's my duty to do it," she explained. "Both of my parents are veterans, so this is honoring them."
For Linda Hughes of Cambria, Wisconsin, decorating the Tribute to Our Troops tree is more than a one-day effort. She has made more than 2,000 ornaments for the tree, dating back to 2005. Her nephew, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Scott of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was killed May 27 of that year in Buhriz, Iraq, when the Kiowa helicopter he was piloting came under small-arms fire and crashed.
"Gov. [Jim] Doyle came to the funeral, and there were lots of funerals that year," Hughes recalled. "Mrs. [Jessica] Doyle saw the agony that families were going through, so she suggested to her husband that they should do something special."
Hughes had long corresponded with deployed service members ó Bob Evans, a member of the Service Member Support Division on hand to decorate, was one of those service members to whom she wrote years ago ó so it was natural for her to make ornaments to remember the troops that could not be home for the holidays. She made 50 ornaments in 2005, and has made 366 ornaments this year. Of those, 176 are for deployed service members and veterans, and 174 are to remember fallen service members dating back to 1901. The ornaments for the fallen have a "dog tag" attached identifying the service member it is intended for.
"There are so many fallen Soldiers in Wisconsin," Lyga remarked. "It shocked me."
Once the decorations are removed from the tree, Hughes said she sends the fallen service member ornaments to family members along with a letter indicating the ornament was displayed on the Tribute to Our Troops tree, and includes a photo of the governor and first lady by the tree.
"Over the last five years we've made all the ornaments for the fallen Soldiers to be alike so they are all honored in the same way," Hughes said. "That seems to make the families happier than an array of different ornaments."
Staff Sgt. Brenda Hahn, also a member of the 115th Fighter Wing's Force Support Squadron, was asked during a drill weekend to volunteer to decorate the tree. She thought it would be fun and worthwhile, and said the experience was above and beyond her expectations.
"This was so wonderful today ó just the privilege of hanging these ornaments of our past veterans and the deceased. It's such a great memorial," she said. "I'm so glad I volunteered."
The Tribute to Our Troops tree can be seen during public tours held from noon-2 p.m. Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11, and from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 6 and 13.