LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Trimming the Christmas tree while drinking hot cocoa or eggnog, hanging brightly colored lights on the house in the bitter cold, chestnuts roasting over an open fire, mistletoe — the list of Christmas traditions is endless and varies widely from family to family.
While deployed, soldiers are unable to participate in their families’ usual yuletide celebrations, which can have a detrimental effect on morale, especially for first-time deployers. To counteract this, units try to create Christmas traditions of their own.
At Forward Operating Base Gamberi, units from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are bringing in Christmas cheer through decorations and song.
“It’s a smaller tree and it doesn’t rotate,” said Spc. Andrew Kawala, a medic with Charlie Medical Company, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, while decorating the small tree set up in the Gamberi Aid Station as Christmas music played in the background. “It was good for where we’re at. With the space we need for work, it works.”
Although Kawula has deployed previously to Iraq, he was a late-deployer and was able to spend the holidays with friends and family, making this his first Christmas in a combat environment.
During the last few weeks, care packages have poured in at the base, containing cards, ornaments, lights, Santa hats and other assorted decorations along with the care and support of their senders. Stockings containing candy, cookies and other tasty snacks have been passed out to the troops, which were then hung around many an office.
More than 75 soldiers coming from various religious faiths were able to participate in a candlelight service on Christmas Eve put on by the brigade unit ministry team.
Those soldiers with hidden musical talents have showcased their abilities by participating in the Gamberi Rock Holiday Carolers group, organized by Warrant Officer-1 Chontrelle Sturdivant, the brigade food service technician.
“I know everyone was away from their family and friends, so I wanted to bring some cheer here on (the base),” she said. “And I like to sing, so I figured there were a couple of people out there who like to sing, too.”
Sturdivant, who grew up singing in her school and church choirs, and her 15 carollers stood at the entrance of the mess hall for 20 minutes during each of the three hours of Christmas dinner, leading the hungry soldiers in song while they waited in line.
“The audience participated and it really did bring the intent that we had, which was to bring back the holiday spirit,” she said.
Just as Santa Claus travels to each house on Christmas Eve, Col. Bill Benson, the brigade commander, and the brigade’s Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Menton, traveled to each forward operating base.
Both Benson and Menton stressed to their Long Knife soldiers that while they may be away from their families and friends back home, they are with their Army family.
“Not everyone gets to spend Christmas in Afghanistan,” Benson said. “I think that we’re all going to get to a point in our lives and we’re going to look back and say ‘You did something that was extraordinary in your life.’”