BAE System Executive Vice President for Service Sectors David Herr, back, with Edgar and Nichole Rodriguez and their children Mariella, right, and Nieves at Snead’s Asparagus Farm in Fredericksburg. (BAE Systems/BAE Systems)

At BAE Systems, planning for Christmas starts in April.

The contracting giant gets an early jump on the holiday season in order to be ready for its annual Trees for Our Heroes event, a day when military families can get into the holiday spirit by cutting down a Christmas tree and participating in other seasonal activities.

BAE first began this program in 2009 after a staffer heard from a nonprofit partner that the festive tradition was sometimes challenging for military families: They are typically very transient, so it’s difficult to store decorations or an artificial tree.

BAE works with the USO to identify local military families for whom money might be tight. The company then invites about them to Snead’s Asparagus Farm in Fredericksburg, where volunteers from BAE can help them select and chop down a tree. To keep little ones involved, BAE sets up stations for coloring and making ornaments and place mats. Attendees can cap off the day by getting a photo taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and they can take home a box of new decorations to spiff up their tree.

“Our largest customer is the military community, and for us, it’s just a very simple way to give back,” said Diane Parisi, vice president of community investment.

The Trees for Our Heroes event has been growing larger each year, with BAE sites in Virginia, New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey getting in on the action. So far, it has served about 1,550 families.