PICTURE US SMILING |
December 23, 2006
I wrote this a year ago:
Life doesn't seem to give you time-outs. Put your hands up in the shape of a "T," and the stress is not softened, the edges not blurred so you can sit down on the bench of life's sideline and just catch your breath. The clock doesn't stop so that you can better deal with whatever hardships or difficulties you are experiencing. Likewise, war doesn't screech to a halt during the Holiday Season. The enemy does not celebrate Christmas, nor do they try to respect it, the way we show deference during Ramadan and other religious observances. They don't circle December 25th on their calendars and scribble "Kill no Americans today" in Arabic. When you're in a combat zone, it's a little harder to get into the spirit.
But you know what? We have Christmas trees in almost every office. Some of us have little trees or stockings in our rooms, surrounded by presents in festive wrapping. Some offices are decorated more than others, and have wreaths with little Army figures rappelling from them. There are cookies and treats in almost every area, morsels of charity and love from the home front. Everybody is receiving care packages. Children from local schools in our hometowns have sent us beautiful cards. They adorn walls which are otherwise covered, for the most part, with matters of warfare, kill tactics and such. We are all eating way too much holiday candy. The stuff is everywhere.
When you enter the chow hall, there is a six-foot Christmas tree surrounded by big boxes that are wrapped as if they were gifts. The festive decor is way overdone, but that's what makes it so nice. Right now there is no such thing as too much America in Ramadi. Bring it on, we say. The metal support beams that line the chow hall are covered from top to bottom in wrapping paper. When you come out of the serving line and enter the area with the salad bars, there is Christmas music playing, and cakes that reconstruct the nativity scene, and cakes in the shape of snowmen.
We are still fighting a war in a very deadly region. We are still focused. We work our shifts and immerse ourselves in the mission, and make the most of each moment. But we are completely aware of the spirit of the Holidays that is lighting up our home towns. We hum Christmas tunes under our kevlar helmets. We want to be there, but we accept that we cannot. Many of us will use an instant messenger service and web-cam, or a satellite phone, to see and hear our loved ones on Christmas day. Technology does shorten the miles, and for that we are definitely thankful. I know folks who are going caroling around the FOB. And I am willing to bet my next paycheck that someone will dress up as Santa Claus.
So picture us smiling, not bleeding. Imagine us laughing instead of staring at the desert sunsets wistfully. Know that while we are painfully aware of the drama of our present state of affairs, this hard reality, we think of you often. In everything we do there is the simmer of Christmas cheer bubbling below the surface. It is a good thing in a place where good people are living and fighting. We've spent most of our lives in America. And while it is difficult to fully remember the joy of Christmas out here, it is much, much harder to forget.
In the end it has to become just another day. But it is another day down, scratched out on the calendar. An emblem of progress, and a reminder to count your blessings, not your difficulties. We are 24 hours closer to finishing this chapter of life and returning to those things that we know and love.
One Christmas tree is pretty big. It has blinking lights, ornaments, tinsel, and candy canes hanging from it, and, in a nice dark touch that exemplifies the mood of war, a belt of .50 caliber ammunition placed carefully around the bottom. The multi-colored lights reflect off its brass casings. It's actually quite beautiful.
Thank you for all the support this Holiday Season. It means more than you know. Merry Christmas from Al Anbar Province.