Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in Kandahar

It seems that in our lives, for the most part, we cannot remember every single Christmas. They all tend to blend together and we can only recall a few that stick out for one reason or another. Well, this year is one that I will probably remember for a very long time to come. Not because it was good, or bad for that matter, but simply because it was different. I celebrated Christmas in a way that I never have before, and most likely never will again.

Of course, when you are deployed and are away from your family and friends, Christmas is going to be different. I expected it to be so, and so it was simply a matter to see how different. One of the nice things about Christmas on deployment is how supportive everyone can be. I received many gifts from family and friends, including co-workers. It was a very nice feeling to know that people put in the effort just to bring you a bit of joy while you are away from home. But, it isn’t just the support from people that you know, it is also the support from people that you don’t know. Christmas cards, gifts and messages poured in from Canada to wish us well. It is very touching to know that people all across the country take a few moments from their own lives to reach out and let you know that they are there. This is my chance to say thank you to all of those who took a few moments to pass on a bit of holiday cheer. It was greatly appreciated.

As I have mentioned in the past, I no longer live at the Airfield with the rest of the Canadians but live at a small camp that contains only a handful of people. The entire mentoring team that I work with lives here and we are comprised of soldiers from several nations. There are ten of us from four different countries - Canada, the United States, Great Britain and Holland. Thus, at Christmas Eve, we all found ourselves separated from not only our families, but also from the majority of our fellow countrymen, who were located at the main Airfield. But, Christmas is that time of year that brings people together. Instead of spending the evening feeling sorry for ourselves, we faced the bitter cold that night and built a bonfire, played a bit of music and spent the evening telling a few stories and joking around. Although there was no Christmas tree, no snow or no fat man in a red suit, there were plenty of good tidings of comfort and joy. Although it was a multinational affair, each one of those individuals there could have just as easily been a next door neighbor from home.

As for Christmas Day, we were given the day off and did not have to visit the Afghans and mentor them on their daily business. Instead, we all volunteered to do guard duty and give the regular soldiers a day off to have some rest and relaxation. I spent the afternoon on Christmas Day manning a gate, checking the IDs of people coming in and searching vehicles. It is the only Christmas I have spent wearing a helmet, body armor and looking over the barrel of a heavy machine gun. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like 200 chain linked rounds coming out of the barrel of a gun at the rate of about 10 per second. Thankfully, I contained my urge to provide the camp with a Christmas fireworks display.

And so that is how Christmas went for me. It was different, but nevertheless, it was an experience I enjoyed. Of course, it doesn’t beat the fun of opening gifts on Christmas morning or eating that little bit of extra turkey, but there was still that same magic in the air. Even if just for the day, you put your troubles aside and enjoyed being in the moment. Plus, in years to come, this will be one Christmas that will not blend in with the rest. It is one that will provide me with memories of how Christmas finds a way to bring people together.

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