It was 12 years ago, December 1997, and I sat in a GP Medium canvas tent on a wide-open treeless hilltop above some kind of coal mine in Bosnia freezing my ass off. I spent about 7 months in that dump and missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, my birthday, and other occassions with my family and friends back home (in Germany). It was one thing to witness the blatant disregard for anything decent that some of those people had, but the personal discomforts made it even worse. The tent would drop to about 20 degrees at night and the nearest bathroom was a porta-potty about 100 yards away through knee-deep snow and 50 mph wind. For 7 months I bitched and moaned more than I thought possible and my time there seemed like it would never end.
But it did end–finally–and because of it I have a much greater appreciation for everything and everyone I have. It sucked but it made me a better person, a stronger person. It also allows me a better understanding of what our men and women and their families are going through right now–except it is much more difficult for them. Many of these men and women are on their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, both of which are much more difficult and higher intensity environments than Bosnia was. Their families are also having to endure their absences, yet again, for another holiday season, more birthdays, children being born, loved ones passing on, and other significant events. Somewhere over there I know a young soldier is sitting on a sand dune or in his cot looking at the picture his wife just sent him of his family back home and he’s not sorry fir himself. He is sorry for his children that he will not be there Christmas morning to hug them and kiss them and watch the joy on their faces when they open their presents. Around the United States countless families sit hoping and praying that they never get that phone call or that the casualty assistance officer and chaplain never come to knock on their door. Most will be lucky. Some will not.
People thank me all the time for my service and although it is a gesture which I appreciate very much I always give the same reply: do not thank me, thank the men and women who are over there now and need your thoughts and prayers to return safely to their families. Send a letter to “Any Soldier” or a care package or get online and send e mails of warm wishes and support. I can’t tell you the feeling I had while in Bosnia when I used to get “Any Soldier” letters expressing support and gratitude for the job we were trying to do. It means more than most folks will ever understand and these young men and women serving today will greatly appreciate it.
In closing, please remember to keep these soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in your thoughts during the Christmas season. It is not asking too much in exchange for the sacrifices they and their families endure time and time again.