One of the most difficult things for a member of the armed forces to cope with (other than being under fire) is to spend the holidays away from family. Invariably the friendships one makes in the service help to alleviate this, but in the end it’s not the same as sitting down to dinner with relatives or that special someone in your life. With those brave Marines currently serving in Iraq, I find myself recalling my own experiences as a Marine 14 years ago in very similar surroundings.
Christmas of 1990 I found myself in Bahrain, thousands of miles from home as part of our first go around with Iraq. At that point I’d already been in country about four months and my thoughts were focused on the day when I’d be able to return home. That day my unit had arranged a cookout on a naval base that looked more like a park in any large American city than the electronic surveillance base that it was. There was even a Baskin-Robbins and a bowling alley. At the cookout my Sergeant Major had donned a fake white beard and a red hat so as to emulate Sergeant Major Kringle while he handed out the mail.
So there we all stood, gas masks slung over our shoulders, while he called our names. Not even a “ho ho ho.” I don’t remember much about that day other than what I’ve written above. What I do remember very vividly was that there were two letters for me: one from my mother and one from my girlfriend. While there was a certain part of getting those letters that made me a little more homesick, the fact that I had gotten them made the day a lot easier to get through.
Four months later when I stepped off the plane at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, the woman I would marry just a few months later was there waiting for me. It was perhaps the most wonderful moment of my life to see her again. Knowing that she would be there for me to come back to was what kept me going.
As we enter this holiday season take a moment and remember our fellow Americans that are serving far away and are unable to spend this special time with those closest to them. If you know someone who is serving take a few minutes and sit down and write him or her a letter. A small gesture like that can make all the difference.
Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.