When a call earlier this year was put out for volunteers to come and decorate the White House for the holidays, Maj. Wes Risher, 50, of the Oregon Air National Guard, quietly sent in an application. In his letter, Risher nominated himself and his partner, Chris Schwarz, as volunteers.
In August, Schwarz was notified that they had been approved to come to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the day after Thanksgiving.
"I was stunned. Wes surprised me," Schwarz, a 43-year-old software designer, said Wednesday at the first viewing of the White House decorations. He stands in front of one of the four giant Christmas trees that he and Risher decorated in honor of the First Ladies. "With the military in him, it was his decision to... come forward and nominate himself."
Across the hall from Schwarz, Risher stands proudly in front of a second tree, where ornaments are hung that belonged to first ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to present. He points out a felt white poinsetta that belonged to Lady Bird Johnson.
"We built the tree from the inside out," he says, saying that he and Schwarz have been dubbed the White House "treemasters" for their work. "It was the first time I felt comfortable doing this...because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Risher says.
President Barack Obama certified the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in July 2011, allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military for the first time.
Both Risher and Schwarz voted for Obama, but Schwarz says he was "almost voting as much for Michelle and what she represents."
In a speech at the White House Tuesday, with Schwarz and Risher in the adjoining hall, Michelle Obama told assembled military families they "truly represent the very best of what this country has so to offer."
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