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"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style ...” A stroll through the streets of Fort Knox today could evoke the Norman Rockwell imagery that typifies our often idyllic aspirations for the holiday season.
Like their civilian friends and neighbors, American service members and their loved ones cherish opportunities to celebrate the incarnation of the Christ. And like civilians, Army families struggle to maintain a healthy perspective on the reason for this season.
The cachophany of competing demands on their time and resources can create a tug-of-war between the Norman Rockwell and Griswold family extremes of the modern American Christmas experience.
Beyond the familiar comforts of decked halls, gift lists and chapel bells, deployments, wars and years of separation from loved ones indelibly color the Army community’s experience of Christmas. Not surprisingly, the Christmas season can be difficult for both soldiers and families.
The young troop on patrol in Afghanistan dreams of returning to his parents’ welcoming arms. The brave spouse keeps the home fires burning but longs for the family circle to be unbroken. The child dreams of being cuddled in the deployed parent’s arms. The soldier on field of duty ponders taken-for-granted things such as long showers, green grass, a soft ride, 10 fingers and 10 toes — life.
When distance or duty preclude opportunity to fellowship and reconnect with family at Christmas time, the “military family” offers a surrogate. Especially during times of deployment, soldiers learn that a “battle buddy” is a brother or sister in arms. A deployed senior noncommissioned officer recalled that “We had to be family to each other and pull younger soldiers in. Your battle buddy becomes more of your family at times like this than anyone else.”
My wife recently informed me that during my first Christmas deployment, leaving her with five children in tow, she broke down and cried on Christmas Day. She couldn’t recall how she coped during the second Christmas deployment. That sixth child must have really put a spin on things. Military spouses benefit from forming bonds of solidarity and support during such times.
I don’t recall what I did on Christmas Day in Iraq, other than strap on my boots and get to work.
As one soldier put it, “The war doesn’t end because of this (holiday) — the convoys, patrolling and fighting continue.” For the typical deployed troop, Christmas is just another day away from home.
However, I do recall with fondness the gifts and cards that friends, family and people I’d never met sent from back home. The benefit to soldiers’ morale from such expressions of support and appreciation cannot be overestimated – thank you.
Hardships notwithstanding, soldiers and their families understand the importance of their service and are honored to defend our country, no matter the cost. But, for a merry “Army” Christmas, home sweet home always will be their preferred duty station.
Please remember to pray for our troops, for the peace of Christ to sustain them and for the Lord to return them safely home. Amen.
Lt. Col. James R. Boulware, a North Hardin High School graduate, is an Army chaplain assigned to Fort Knox.