In 2011, I was tasked with a deployment to Afghanistan. Thankfully, I had a few months’ notice, but my report date hit right before the Christmas holiday. My wife and I tried to soak in as much family time together as possible. We knew the Christmas season was going to be hard; I would leave in early December. We made the trip home for Thanksgiving and celebrated our first anniversary early.
When the holidays did arrive, we made the most of the situation and tried to find ways to make it special, despite miles and time zones separating us. We knew this was not a normal year and with God’s protection I would be home to celebrate the next year. Lea travelled home from Texas to spend the time with both our families. She spent the time reliving family traditions with her parents and sister. She had a decorated tree, Home Alone, and wassail. The kind of relaxing you only get in the comfort of your family. She also made sure to see my parents as well. In so many ways our family wrapped around her and gave her comfort in my absence.
For me, it was different. We arrived at our Forward Operating Base early in the morning on Christmas Eve. By this point, the guys I was deployed with had become like family. We would be living in the same tents and working towards the same mission for the next 6+ months. It was a long journey and there was work to do, we hit the ground running in many respects. I think many of us wanted to take our minds off the date and put our head down to work, but we did pause on Christmas Eve to take time to celebrate. Santa made an appearance in a fully decorated Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. The mess hall made the best Christmas feast they could scrape together in a combat environment. We paused and remembered the specialness of the day. For me, it was a time of reflection. As much as I missed home, I was there so that my family could celebrate in peace at home. I was there so that so many others could celebrate a religious holiday in the manner of their choosing. It was a solemn reminder of the importance of our mission and the oath I’d sworn. I wanted to be with my young wife, but I knew what I was doing was important and someone needed to stand guard. It was an honor to serve.
Ultimately, our faith helped us cope and get through the season. Christmas is about hope. Not just hope for us in the temporal earthly sense, but eternal Hope. Our circumstances that Christmas were not what we'd have preferred and likely not what we'd choose again. But Christmas reminds us there is something greater and a love that will endure. It crosses time and continents. Our families wrapped Lea in love and warmth. They made sure to call and Skype with me as I made the most of the time and developed friendships with men who would become my brothers. I truly believe with God's love and the support of our communities we can weather many storms in life.