An October Christmas |
Commentary by Gene Kamena
Air War College faculty
12/14/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al -- Military necessity sometimes collides with holiday activities, even Christmas.
This was the case in July 1995, when the Army unit I commanded in Baumholder, Germany, was ordered to deploy to Macedonia in support of a United Nations' mission along the borders of Kosovo and Serbia. Time was short since we were to relieve the unit currently serving in Macedonia in early November--another Christmas season away from family and friends.
After learning of the deployment, representatives from the unit's family readiness group asked to meet and suggested, maybe demanded, that something be done about Christmas. Their concern was that families would be separated again for the holidays.
When I got home, I asked my senior rater (my wife) for advice. Her response was immediate and determined, "Let's celebrate Christmas in October." For a brief second I thought about all that would not get done in terms of deployment preparation, and then I reminded myself that people are what matter. Celebrate Christmas in October? This was indeed a unique idea, but could we pull it off?
After some initial planning, things started to come together. The second week in October was set aside on the training schedule for family Christmas activities. Christmas parties were scheduled, a tree-lighting ceremony was arranged and a Christmas "fun run" was planned. I spoke with the post exchange manager to arrange for the early arrival of holiday decorations and toys for the kids.
Amazingly, this hastily rescheduled Christmas took on the air of the actual event. The unit chaplain conducted a Christmas Eve candlelight service, people exchanged presents, and units even sang Christmas carols throughout the housing area. The cool weather, a little snow and festive atmosphere helped the children forget the actual date on the calendar, for their attention was focused squarely on what might be in store for them with Santa's well-publicized arrival.
Time with family and a reprieve from the hectic pace of deployment activities was exactly what the unit needed. Christmas in October 1995 was not about giving or receiving presents. That Christmas centered on spending time with loved ones. Although the respite was just a week long, it was just enough to rejuvenate people to help them finish the few remaining tasks before we deployed.
Our six months in country were filled with excitement and boredom. Every border observation post, however, did its best to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, in spite of an onerous patrol schedule and austere conditions.
Throughout our deployment in Macedonia, I made a point to engage people at all levels of the unit in conversation, with the topic of discussion inevitably touching upon what transpired during our October Christmas. I think they appreciated the effort to fence time for celebration and family.
Leaders must find a way to mark and celebrate what is important in the lives of their people. Holidays in the military, especially before an extended period of separation, provide much needed routine and stability, and are even more meaningful in terms of memories and tradition. Service members notice and appreciate all efforts of their leaders, even unorthodox efforts, to tell them that they matter.
I still receive a few Christmas cards every October - voices and memories from a rescheduled Christmas