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.”
So it is that while visions of sugar plums dance in our heads, visions unimaginable to non-military personnel await these brave and determined warriors.
Complimenting these soldiers and Marines are our Special Forces, who’ve had boots on the ground in Afghanistan since days after the attacks on September 11, 2001. The covert nature of their work guarantees that their families will not only miss them this Christmas, but will not even know where they are. Among these are fathers, husbands, and brothers who will not hear the carols their children, wives, and siblings sing amidst the smell of evergreens in the air.
Many members of the Navy who man submarines and ships that remain at the ready all day, every day, are even now within striking distance of the enemy, carrying more firepower on water than our terrorist foe possesses on land. That they will remembered this Christmas by their families is not enough — they must also be remembered by us. For they too will fail to make it home in time to open the gifts beneath the tree.
And many members of our Air Force, some of whom I’ve taught from the Clovis Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico, will not make it home to see their children’s faces light up when they discover that Santa drank the milk and ate the cookies they placed on the table before going to bed on Christmas Eve. Instead, they’ll be thousands of feet in the air, engaged in bombing and surveillance missions too important to forego even now.
While our homes are full of family celebrating “the most wonderful time of the year,” take the time to pause and remember that ours is a life of ease rarely mixed with danger solely because the lives of these troops are those of danger rarely mixed with ease.
These are those of whom it was said: “[We] sleep peacefully in [our] beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on [our] behalf.”
Merry Christmas to our troops the world over. You are not forgotten.