Santa greets Ntl. Guardsmen at VFW

​​​​​​Few guests can upstage Santa and Mrs. Claus at a gathering, but for the volunteers of VFW Post 467 in Westminster, National Guardsmen and their families were the guests of honor Saturday afternoon as the post played host to the Maryland Army National Guard 29th Military Police Company’s holiday meal.

When the Westminster-based unit booked the VFW’s hall for its annual event, the VFW volunteered to take on the costs, covering the cost of the hall rental and catering the meal.


“This is our thank you to our veterans, said Marcie Brengle, general manager at the post. She said organizing the meal fit well within the post’s mission of serving veterans and their families. Around 200 guests were expected.

The 29th Military Police Company is based out of the Maj. Gen. Henry C. Evans Readiness Center in Westminster, which was renovated in 2015.

Though the holiday meal is an annual celebration, this was the first time it was held at the VFW. Last year, the meal took place at Fort Meade and was a more formal affair.

This year, children ran around in the aisles of the ornament-bedecked VFW hall and guests enjoyed a buffet-style meal of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and other classic holiday foods. Rather than uniforms, members wore holiday sweaters decked out with everything from working lights to fire-breathing dragons to reindeer.

For several members of the unit, it was nice to be home, as they’ve spent other holidays away from home while deployed.

Spc. Christian Jennings has been deployed four times, and he and his wife Kristina weren’t able to be together over the holidays last year.

“I did not enjoy celebrating Christmas over the iPad,” Kristina Jennings said.

The pair were decked out in red and green sweaters while socializing at a full table. Christian Jennings said he was happy to be home and that the holiday meal was a chance to see others in a more laid back environment than their regular drills.

“People are a little more at ease,” he said. “[Normally] everything is very much rank.”

“It’s nice celebrating with our second family,” Kristina Jennings said.

A little after 4 p.m., a booming “Ho, ho ho,” echoed up the stairwell and the Claus’s appeared to take pictures with the children in attendance, who numbered almost 50.

Family support services for the unit were able to gather treats for Santa to hand out to children and they also reached out to local businesses that donated items for door prizes to be awarded throughout the evening.

John Young and Laurie Dillon, who are members of the VFW and engaged in real life, donned the red costumes for a breakfast with Santa in the morning at the VFW before they made their appearance at the holiday meal.

Young said they’ve had a mixed reaction from the kids, with some very excited to see Santa and some very intimidated. One parent, he said, asked him to hold on tight to a very reluctant child so she could get a picture in the few seconds before he ran away. Dillon, who works at a pediatric office, said some were more willing to sit on her lap as Mrs. Claus if they were intimidated by Mr. Claus.


Incoming 1st Sgt. John Clayton said overall the event had one of the best turn-outs of recent holidays meals. For him, it was a good chance to get familiar with faces in the unit as he takes over for the former staff sergeant.

His position in Westminster is a sort of homecoming. At the start of his career 21 years ago, he was first stationed in Westminster, and after serving a three-year term as first sergeant he will retire here as well.

His wife, Staff Sgt. Katie Clayton, however, is a familiar face, having served in Westminster for 17 years, her husband said.

“One thing I want to do is get the community involved with the National Guard here,” he said.

The dedication of the unit’s members impresses him. For many, this is a second job, though it requires that they constantly be ready to be deployed or called on by the governor to serve the community in an emergency.

Post Chaplain Gary Saylor, who gave the prayer before the meal, said his thoughts are with the unit this holiday, especially to those who will be deployed on the first of the year.

“Everyone here looks so young,” he remarked. “My heart goes out to them. They’re protecting the gates of our freedom.”