Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Military Christmas

From USA Today:
"U.S. troops overseas soldier on during the holidays"

Being away from family for the holidays is always difficult. But it is especially challenging this season for American troops in unprecedented twin deployments more than 5,000 miles apart as they battle the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia and the brutal Taliban in Afghanistan. USA TODAY correspondents Gregg Zoroya in Liberia and Jim Michaels in Afghanistan chronicled how American forces will spend Christmas 2014 outside the capital cities of Monrovia and Kabul. Here are their reports: While fellow soldiers spend Christmas avoiding suicide attacks by Taliban militants in Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers in the heat and humidity of this jungle village are dealing with a very different but just as deadly enemy. They are playing the part of Ebola-infected patients to test the responses of Liberian health workers who are undergoing training. This is a humanitarian mission rather than war duty. Although it is a hardship to be so far away from home during the holiday season, the troops take solace in the fact that this unique mission captures the true spirit of Christmas: goodwill toward men. "Being away from home is always the hardest thing," says Army physician Matt Fandre, overseeing health care for the 2,300 U.S. troops in Liberia. "The biggest counter to that is having a mission that means something real. None of the U.S. troops, whose numbers reached nearly 2,900 in November, have fallen ill with Ebola or malaria since deployments began in September, Fandre says. A seven-foot artificial Christmas tree complete with decorations was flown in and set up near command headquarters in Monrovia. Turkey and ham dinners are planned for Christmas Day, when the weather will be a steamy 86 degrees with 75% humidity in a country just six degrees north of the equator. Over dinner at the headquarters mess hall on a warm night, soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, speak of sharply contrasting world experiences. They seemed at ease with their new task, their weapons locked away in an armory, taken out only for inventory or maintenance.
Sgt. Alon Humphrey's son was born in November while he was in Afghanistan.
"Not being able to hold my son, that was hard," says Humphrey, 27, who is on his first combat tour.
Missing Christmas with his family for the first time is also hard. But the bonds he has formed with his fellow soldiers are helping him get through the holiday. "Just having good people around me helps," he says.Chief Warrant Officer Jeffrey Myers, 35, a helicopter pilot who flies medevac missions, says the reduction in American forces as they largely end their combat mission in Afghanistan, means fewer casualties for his unit.  Still, the separation from his wife and three young children remains difficult. This tour is his fifth deployment and he has missed a number of holidays during those years away.
Soldiers here say the availability of social media and the Internet eases some of the loneliness over the holidays. They regularly Skype or chat online with their families back home. "It's nice to know you can see your entire family on Skype," says Capt. Emily Olsen, 27, a critical-care nurse who flies aboard medevac helicopters. Her father was a soldier deployed during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, when communications meant writing letters or an occasional phone call. Troops also get care packages from families, churches and organizations that send items such as candy, coffee and even cigars. The mail facility here handled 114,000 pounds of mail on Dec. 16, about double the normal amount. "There are some very hefty care packages," says Maj. Danielle MacDonnell, commander for postal operations here. "It's always appreciated." Servicemembers have festooned their work spaces with Christmas lights, small trees and other decorations throughout this sprawling base, about 25 miles northeast of Kabul.

^ No matter how you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas it is always important to remember the men and women who are serving their country away from home. They don't have to be in places like Iraq, Afghanistan or Germany, Japan, South Korea or Africa - they can be in the US too. There are those who are away from home that don't get to receive or send mail (like my father in Iraq.) For security reasons he can only send and receive e-mail. Even when he was a soldier in Iraq in the 1990 War he could get mail and yet for some reason now he can't. Also, TV channels in the US used to show mini-messages from soldiers and their families to their loved ones in the States around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I haven't seen one of those in years. Sometimes it is the little things that can make a holiday great. We need to remember that as we celebrate.  The picture above is from Facebook. ^

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