Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Eve

The horizon is a deep purple, gradually fading to a light orange glow and then back to black, with stars shining brightly overhead. All is silent, save for the steady “flip, flop” of my sandals as I make my way from the showers in the chill morning air. Suddenly the roar of an F-15E Strike Eagles’ engines shatters the stillness in the distance. I look up to see the twelve-foot long blue streaks of rocket thrust as they take off into the pre-dawn glow. Without warning I watch as they pull straight up to avoid any threats that could feebly attempt at bringing them down. Before I reach my room, they have disappeared into the darkness.

It’s Christmas Eve in the desert.

Everyone knows it--that back home in the States the most festive days of the year lay ahead. For us, we’ll make attempts at having some festivities of our own—a Christmas Party at the O’Club, gathering to watch a holiday movie at the rec center, a little extra food for us at the chow hall. But no one mentions home. Especially for those of us with children, no one breathes a word about what they know their families are doing right now. The only speak of the date, soon approaching, that we will board planes, much like we did four months ago, and leave this place behind us.

Up range the soldiers that the warplanes are going to protect carry on as they normally do. The terrorists don’t take a break for Christmas. They don’t care that the soldier they have targeted in their sights has a two-year old at home opening gifts from Santa Claus as he waits for him to drive over the IED he has set. So they will take no holiday—perhaps wishing a few “Merry Christmas” greetings and dream of a day that they can go home, leaving a peaceful Iraq behind them.

I can’t begin to imagine what those warriors are going through. I know I may have given the impression of misery here where I am, but it is nothing compared to what those boys face every day. The only real hardship that we have to face here is being away from home, away from our normal lives. But even given that, if they asked me to stay for another four months I would without hesitation. And Emily would understand. Because they are a large part of what we are here for, what we fight every day to protect. And without the support of those husbands, wives, and children celebrating their holidays at home right now we maybe wouldn’t win this war.

So tonight I will go to midnight mass, and go to bed dreaming of those kids who will just be waking up to see what was left for them under the tree. And they will remain free. And protected.

By those of us celebrating Christmas in the desert.

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