In America, Christmas stands out as a time of year unlike any other. In addition to the religious meaning tied to it via the celebration of the birth of Christ, it is a season literally characterized by goodwill and good cheer. A time when eyes really do sparkle as children look through toy store windows, and one in which adults enjoy dinners and friends in homes that, for a season, are transformed into cathedrals of light and bastions of joy.
It is the season when many practice long-held traditions, like sitting together to watch It’s a Wonderful Life while drinking eggnog in front of a fire.
Yet this Christmas Day, in the midst of all the frivolity, freshly opened presents, and homes full of family, we must remember that scattered throughout the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan (and elsewhere) stand American soldiers on guard. Soldiers who won’t be home to see the tree this year.
While we are sitting around the table passing the ham, the bread, and the sweet potatoes, thousands upon thousands of American soldiers will be lying prone in the sand, holding a defensive position behind a rock, or calling in bombing coordinates from behind the only wall that separates them from insurgents bent on killing infidels.
Many of our Marines will also be facing the enemy instead of facing the camera for the family photograph by the tree this year. And some of these Marines departed for Afghanistan as recently as December 15, 2009, just as the Christmas season was hitting its homestretch.
ABC News covered their departure from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and reported that when the military buses pulled up to take them away from their families and countrymen, one mother standing in the “nighttime chill” could only say: “I wish they were getting off [the bus] instead of getting on.” Because these 1st Battalion 6th Marines are to be part of President Obama’s recently announced surge in Afghanistan, the families who watched buses carry them off to war were “undoubtedly aware these Marines would be entering some of the most difficult and deadly fighting of the Afghan campaign.”