It all started with an Ordnance School-wide holiday decorating contest in 2017. Sgt. 1st Class Mark Peer-Lee adorned his desk area and won hands down. In 2018, he applied his festive touches to other office areas and received more accolades. This year, it’s the entire Tactical Support Equipment Training Department and fellow workers are awestruck by the expanse of his displays.
Hundreds of teddy bears, nutcrackers, Santa Clauses and moving music boxes are on exhibit in just the reception area alone. Throughout building 18041, there are decorated trees, inflatable Santas, lighted blow molds, signs to the North Pole and so much more. Those coming to the building are greeted by a huge three-tiered snowman and multi-colored lights.
Leave it to an NCO to do it right if one is going to do it at all.
“This is something I started doing everywhere I go – Iraq, South Korea, everywhere. My home is decorated like this as well,” Peer-Lee said with a wave in the direction of the Yuletide abundance covering every inch of the lobby area.
“Most people like it. Just as many are shocked when they see this room. Some think I have gone a bit overboard,” he said, then laughed as he looked around.
Peer-Lee’s mother loved decorating for Christmas, and he believes he got his desire to deck the halls from her. He inherited a lot of the vintage ornaments, statues and music boxes from his mother and his grandparents.
“Some have come from people cleaning out homes and giving me boxes of decorations,” he said while, walking down a hallway lined with festive wall hangings and red and green potholders with stuffed Santas, embroidered deer and jingle bells on them.
“My daughter had two barns on her property that she cleaned out and found more decorations. I also bought quite a few. Really, I have no idea how many I’ve accumulated.”
The SFC did a lot of the building-wide decorating himself but enlisted help for the Christmas trees. “Some of the students here decorated those,” he said. “It lifted morale as they really got into making the trees look festive and getting into the holiday spirit.”
The students aren’t the only ones who are uplifted by his décor.
“I like his decorations,” said fellow instructor Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Aguilar, as he stood by an inflatable Christmas Darth Vader guarding Santa in a sleigh stationed by the door to the huge training bay. “They definitely help me get into the Christmas spirit, and I’ve got my eye on his Charlie Brown nutcracker that may or may not go home with me,” he said with a friendly poke at Peer-Lee who shook his head with a smile.
As a no-nonsense Army instructor, Peer-Lee said people often don’t expect his enthusiasm for festive embellishment. “I had one student say that I come off as a really hard person, and it really surprised her to see all of this from me,” he elaborated. “It’s a family tradition, and I feel it keeps me connected to the way I grew up and appreciated this time of the year.”
This is likely his last holiday hoorah at Fort Lee as he expecting to move on to another assignment early next year. He said he will only take his family decorations with him and leave the rest for the department.
“When he leaves, I’m sure someone else will step up to decorate, as it’s a tradition here,” said Clifton Wiley, TSED division chief. “We’ll definitely miss him, though, as I’m not sure anyone else will be able to put as much into it as he does. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill.”