MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!!!
Ya know if nothing else Christmas, more than any other holiday, is a yearly milestone. Without even realizing it, we remember them (the great and the not so great ones) as we pass them on our journey through life. I’m often reminded of “Christmases past” to the point where I can even recall the actual details of the different trees I’ve had, the presents I’ve given and received, and other specifics down to even when I began using certain ornaments. I even remember the Christmases that I didn’t go out of my way to celebrate because I was too broke (a cold and snowy December in Kent comes to mind), or I just wasn’t in the mood to get into the holiday spirit due to low points in my personal situations.
Perhaps like some of you, I also remember the times I’d have a month-long knot in my stomach because money was SO tight that I’d be concerned about spending what little I had for presents for my wife and kids. Then come January the piper would have to be paid, and what little pleasure was had would be forgotten while I figured out how to pay that piper.
But all those bad memories aside, Christmas usually has meant a time to believe in peace and the dignity of mankind....a time when most of humankind at least makes the effort to be more than it might be during the rest of the year.
It just always strikes me as odd that most of the geographical area where all this Christmas stuff first took place is now anything but peaceful, and the atmosphere holds anything but dignity. Palestine....that whole part of the world, including Israel, Egypt, Syria, and even up into Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and most of the other Arabian countries.....has become nothing less than a rural and urban battlefield that includes vast stretches of desert surrounding cities with neighborhoods, business districts, and marketplaces.
Since the American Civil War the news media has kept the public informed of the everyday happenings and the current state of our service men and women in combat. During that conflict, the soldier’s families and other anxious, concerned citizens would await newspaper stories of battlefield accounts and essays that daily appeared written about the war as it took place far from home. Of course the same was true with WWI in Europe, but by then photos were more common. By WWII, radio broadcast came into its maturity. Then, even more precise and detailed moving picture newsreel accounts from the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe were seen weekly in every theater in the nation. In Korea, frontline journalists, radio commentators, and film crews kept the public informed and even closer to the events. By the time of the Viet Nam war, every evening brought the conflict right into our living rooms on a nightly basis via our televisions, and we became used to witnessing horrifying events while we ate dinner.
Most of us have almost forgotten entirely about the FIRST Gulf War (sometimes called the Persian Gulf War) because it was so short (8/2/90 to 2/28/91) and the conflict so defined (Kuwait). It was almost like watching a video game unfold on our TVs. And the end was sudden and definite.
But what has been going on in the Mid-East for the past thirteen years is a different story entirely. This war usually has no actual battle lines and the never-ending mini-conflicts have no precise outcomes. Sure, we hear of things occasionally. Sure, we’re told of the big events, and nothing is actually hidden from the American public....but I think what has been going on over there has been going on for so long that the logic of the strategy is incomprehensible. There seems to be no solid “game plan”, hence no “win or lose” scenario.
Probably because of this (unless we’re thinking of our sons and daughters) most of us tend to forget that many of our young soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and reservists, are still there every day, patrolling and standing post under VERY dangerous circumstances trying to guard the peace in some very nasty places.
Sgt. Tom Kinney works in a security forces squadron stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter whether he’s an Army reservist or a regular soldier, or if he’s a Marine, or an Airman....what DOES matter is that he’s there. And just being there on a base or traveling through the crowded, busy streets, much less patrolling them, is incredibly dangerous due to constant mortar attacks on our installations and harmless appearing civilian terrorists wandering the towns with weapons and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devises) carried or planted in the roads. Here in this country’s second largest city, close to a million people crowd the downtown areas with cars and mopeds. And the massive numbers of careless pedestrians seem heedless of the wheeled traffic as they go about their legitimate (and not-so legitimate) business.
Standing on a busy street corner, Sgt. Tom removes his helmet for a minute to wipe his brow. The heat is unbearable today. Not yet ten in the morning and it’s over 95 degrees already! He and the squad he’s patrolling with have to wear complete fatigues WITH body-armor. Sometimes the heat, combined with the dust and the sweat, seems to make the simplest tasks torturous.
Every time he begins to think he’ll be home soon, his deployment is extended. And every week brings news of more attacks and more casualties. The fact is he often wonders IF he’ll be going home still breathing. And once there, will he be able to find a job? He’s read that the success of vets finding work in the civilian sector is now only at 9%.
And then there’s Christmas....it’s coming soon and he hasn’t even heard from anybody but his mom for months. His friends are obviously more interested in what THEY are into then what his world is like these days.
Well, I was going to continue this on for a few more paragraphs....this story of a lonely young man in uniform at Christmastime....when it was suggested I do something other than just talking about it and “Bumming” everyone for Christmas.
The way it happened was I was reading what I’ve written for this month’s column so far to a good, good, friend of mine named Jackie Yohn whom over the years I’ve often asked for input regarding what I write. She’s sort of my sounding board and literary advisor. (If you’ll remember I once told you she was my “best man” at my last wedding LOL). And she suggested that I finish this column by encouraging the following.....
This year, if there is still time (and we’re thinking you’ll be reading this early enough in December), and if you’ve a mind to....why don’t you contact (like she and I will) any one of a number of organizations to try to help relieve some of the stress and anxiety of our troops far from home? Just a few websites that she has found without any real work are:
These fine groups help coordinate anything you might want to do, whether its packages of stuff they can’t get over there, or just letting them know that you care about them and appreciate what they’re doing. For instance; I’m sure there are some young bikers over there (perhaps related to our members) who would get a kick out of an ABATE group sending them a recorded DVD of Christmas carols sung by a bunch of idiots. Or maybe even just a stack of old Easyriders (or other bike magazines).
Some of the most requested items from these kids (and these days anyone under 40 years old is a kid to me) are store-bought food items such as: drink-mix pouches, cookies, tuna pouches, chips, nutra-grain bars, candy (that doesn’t easily melt), nuts (particularly cashews for some reason), and Pop-tarts. Also, personal items such as: baby wipes and moist wipes (for the heat), DVDs (new or used) music CDs, razors and soaps for male and female, tampons, and shaving cream. Even just a donation of money would be put to good use.
I’m sure many of you have probably been in uniform far from home. And I’m also sure you realize how important it might be for their sanity to be thought of, particularly at this time of year.
Please also note (whether we like it or not), some Muslim countries actually have laws against displaying Christian symbols. You’ll not want your mail or package to be held back by their customs authorities due to a Christmas decoration or symbol on a package, envelope, or stamp.
People like me might bitch about having to be alone for Christmas, but people like THAT have to remember the holidays while living in constant danger, with the additional fear that they’ve been forgotten. Let’s not forget about them this Christmas while there’s still time to show them we care.
I mean it IS Christmas for Christ’s sake! (Literally)