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Santa brings holiday cheer to local community

Santa poses with a child enrolled at the Youth & Family Services Center in Rapid City, S.D., Dec.17, 2019. For the past 12 years, Dave Garrett, 28th Operations Support Squadron Assistant Director of Operations, has posed as Santa, visiting the kids at the YFS Center during the 28th Operations Group’s annual Angel Tree event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Jones)

Santa poses with a child enrolled at the Youth & Family Services Center in Rapid City, S.D., Dec.17, 2019. For the past 12 years, Dave Garrett, 28th Operations Support Squadron Assistant Director of Operations, has posed as Santa, visiting the kids at the YFS Center during the 28th Operations Group’s annual Angel Tree event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Jones)

Children open their presents from Santa at the Youth & Family Services Center in Rapid City, S.D., Dec. 17, 2019. Each year, the 28th Operations Group puts together Angel Tree, collecting presents to gift to children enrolled in YFS programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Jones)

Children open their presents from Santa at the Youth & Family Services Center in Rapid City, S.D., Dec. 17, 2019. Each year, the 28th Operations Group puts together Angel Tree, collecting presents to gift to children enrolled in YFS programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Jones)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- He tightens his broad black belt over his crimson red jacket, lined with white trim. He laces up his heavy black leather boots, combs out his thick white beard, and covers his white hair with a crimson and white stocking cap before delicately placing his glasses on his jolly face.

On a sunny South Dakota afternoon, Dec. 17, Dave Garett pulled up in his sleigh – his white pick-up truck – and saw more than 200 children lined up outside the Youth and Family Services Center (YFS), Rapid City, eagerly awaiting his arrival.

Every year since 2007, Garrett, the 28th Operations Support Squadron Assistant Director of Operations, suits up and greets the children as Santa Claus.

“As a kid, meeting Santa for the first time was awesome and something that I remember to this day,” Garrett said with a smile. “It’s great seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces and knowing that I can hopefully brighten their Christmas, just a little bit.”

It takes months of planning and upgrading his suit to give the children an authentic Santa experience.

“The main objective is that you look the part for all of the kids,” Garrett said. “You take the time to make sure every detail is just right – you don’t want to break character. Take the time to make sure everything looks right.”

The sound of jingle bells and holiday cheer filled the hallways of the YFS Center as Santa and Mrs. Claus made their way to each classroom, handing out presents to every child in attendance.

Restless children sat on the floor of their classroom waiting for Santa to call out their name. Once each child’s name was called, they ran to the front of the room and accepted their presents from Santa and his elves.

To make this year’s Angel Tree event a success, Garrett teamed up with volunteers from the 28th Operations Group and 28th Maintenance Group, delivering holiday cheer to those enrolled in YFS programs.

“It’s priceless to be able to connect with the community like this,” Garrett explained. “I want them to feel good about their community and the people they live with. I think people see these events where people give their time and their money, and it puts everyone in the spirit to help others.”

Garrett intends to volunteer as Santa for as long as he can, making special connections with children who may one day take his place.

“I just want every kid that comes and sees me for them to have a one-on-one experience,” Garrett said. “I want to try and make sure that each child gets my undivided attention for that brief moment by using their name to talk to them and for them to walk away feeling a sense of joy during their Christmas season.”

Before departing, Santa takes one last look down the long hallway and waves at the smiling children, then hops into his sleigh and drives off into the future.

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