West Point spouse helps decorate White House Christmas tree

Story by Kathy Eastwood Staff Writer

December 13th, 2018 | News, News and Features
 The Gold Star Tree comes into view immediately after entering the East Wing and serves as a reminder of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Photos courtesy of Kari Harmeling
 Kari Harmeling poses for a photo along with some of the completed decorations.

Every summer, the White House sends out approximately 7,000 applications to apply to decorate the White House Christmas Trees.
Once the applications are returned to the White House, the First Lady and the chief decorator look at the applications (and probably do security checks) and select roughly 125-200 people to come and decorate the trees at the White House.
Kari Harmeling, a military spouse residing at West Point who also just happens to have graphic artist experience, was one of those accepted.
“The theme for the decorations is ‘American Treasures’ and I was one of six others in my group,” Harmeling said.  “There is a Gold Star tree, and that is the first thing you see as you enter the East Room. It serves as a reminder of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to our nation. It really set the tone.”
Harmeling said she didn’t know any of the six that were with her, but they stayed in the same hotel.
“We became fast friends though,” Harmeling said. “We worked from sunup to sundown. But we had breakfast in the State Dining Room. We first spent the day sorting through decorations in a large warehouse and then the decorations were sent up and we started. There was a piano player playing all day, which was very nice and in some rooms, a band played.
When Harmeling was a child, she read a book by Nancy Reagan, and she was in the same room she was. It gave her a sense of history. Harmeling said that from the first to the third day, they were not allowed to take pictures, but at the reception, they were.
“We were free to roam. It really was magical. It’s the people’s house and that was the way we were treated,” she said.
“We were invited by the First Lady to attend the holiday reception and she came down to thank every one of us. It meant a lot to us and made the work worthwhile. The reception was great, just beautifully done. Later, we were able to see the President, the First Lady and Barron board Marine One through the window. We saw them while the sun was setting by the monument and it was picture perfect. We also saw President Trump pardon the turkey. It was like a dream. We were also treated to a private tour and we got to see the West Wing.”
Harmeling said this isn’t the first time she has been invited to the White House. When George W. Bush was President, just after 9/11, Harmeling created a sculpture of the firemen raising the flag and it was presented to President Bush. The sculpture now resides at his Presidential Library.
Harmeling and her husband, Capt. Jonathan Harmeling who is currently a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute here, will soon be deploying to MacDill Airforce Base in Tampa, Florida where the captain will be working at the Special Operation Command.
“My feeling of leaving that entire experience (at the White House) was with a full and grateful heart as a true servant,” Harmeling said. “Anyone who knows me here at West Point knows the countless amount of hours I have spent serving this community over the past two years, so to be selected for this position was a full-circle moment for me.”