Unless you have had the opportunity to have your holidays honed down by virtue of living in a combat zone, it is way too easy to get sidetracked. As a result of my three Christmases in a row which were spent in Iraq, a few spent in the desert of Mexico, and several where I have not had the opportunity to be with my family, I have learned that the simplest celebrations are the best, even when there is “sandfall” instead of snow, and even when shared with strangers. The following are some reflections of holidays spent in Iraq, which, as odd as it may sound, to this day have a deep and sweet place in my heart. Why? Because they were spent with the ones who make sure we in America are free to celebrate…or not.
”One year we put on a Christmas party for both Coalition and Iraqi soldiers, and it was a blast. Mercy and Marly, who were from the Philippines, and Beverly and Elizabeth, who were from the States, made decorations out of every imaginable thing. There were paper snowflakes that had taken hours to cut, and foil covered ping pong balls that became decorations for the tree. We strung popcorn and lights on an artificial tree sent from home, and had hot food trucked in from an adjacent camp for the party. Mercy took apart a New Year’s noise maker and turned it into an angel for the tree. Truly their ingenuity knew no bounds. The Iraqis were thrilled, and no one seemed to have a problem with getting into the season that is supposed to be about the Ultimate Gift. Elizabeth was Jewish, and had taught English in the Middle East for 15 years. Gutsy gal. She made sure there was a menorah on the event calendar for the month. There was also a big menorah inside Saddam’s palace, something I don’t think he would have handled real well.
Hanukkah and Christmas were the times when the American people bombarded us with blessings. There was enough candy to make you waddle, even
homemade fudge that was put out for all to devour, the donator’s cry being “Take it!” “Get it away from me!” The fudge lasted about a half day, remarkably. There were greeting cards by the hundreds of thousands, books, tapes, CDs, toiletries, hot chocolate, tea, cookies, a veritable invasion mounted by thousands of individuals and groups back home. My mom sent wondrous tea in brightly colored packets. People from Athens and elsewhere sent me so many packages for the soldiers that I could hardly get in and out of my hooch, and one even sent stuff for Super Bowl Sunday. They also blessed me with gifts that I treasure to this day, memories of an unforgettable era in my life.
Holidays in the midst of hostilities, like everything else, become more precious due to precariousness of the situation. Pushing away that precariousness for just a moment is heady, rejuvenating stuff, something I hope I never forget. Having the freedom in the first place to celebrate anything, even in a makeshift manner, becomes the most precious of all. And I hope I never get to the place that I ever sit down at home on Thanksgiving, Hannukah or Christmas, surrounded by people whom I love, where there isn’t a significant part of me that wishes I was in a Dfac,(dining facility,) in the Sandbox,(Iraq,) with the Joes and Janes. (Soldiers.)”
Please, won’t you take a moment to send a card or a care package to our brave ones? There are a number of great organizations who have this down to a science, one of my favorites being Move America Forward. You have no idea how much you will bless a soldier or civilian serving you this winter, and hopefully this “collection of recollections” will help paint the picture. Thank you for thanking our soldiers, at the holidays and all year long. God bless you!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner