Dispatch From Downrange
Dispatch From Downrange ĖIRAQ
Another Christmas Comes and Goes
Christmas is such a special time. As a child, I remember how much I looked forward to the presents and the meals. Family time together was always a given when I grew up. Going out to get the tree from the Christmas tree farm that sprung up in some parking lot was always an event. The lot was there every year, and Dad and I would go and pick out the perfect tree. I always picked one that wouldnít fit in the house so Dad would direct me to the right line of trees that we could use. It was fun. Decorating the tree was something Mom and I did. Dad would look on from his chair, usually with an evening cocktail, and direct us where we needed more or fewer trinkets and lights. I go back to the movie we have all seen a dozen times, A Christmas Story, where all Ralphy wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. My family was sort of like that, at least in my mindís eye. It was a tradition, and it was a good time.
Later in life when it was my turn to get the tree with my son, I was lucky enough to be able to spend the holidays together with my own family. Parents were long gone, so the tradition was passed to me to go out and pick the tree and watch as my son decorated. We were in Germany for most of his younger years so picking the tree meant going into the forest with the Forestmiester and selecting one that had already been designated for cutting that year. The Forestmiester would cut it, and we would take it home. I remember getting trees from a forest so close to the border that the East German tower guards would watch and sometimes wave at us. During that time I was stationed in Helmstedt at a border checkpoint. It was still the cold war so the Iron Curtain, only a few hundred yards away, was very much real and not yet history. One year we even went to Finland for Christmas. Santa was there with his elves and reindeer as well as people from all over the world. You really see other cultures when you do something like that. It is a glimpse into the life you usually only see in National Geographic magazines. We spent that Christmas cross-country skiing, eating local foods, and singing carols in Finnish. Iíd pull my little boy in a sled behind me as we skied while he threw snow balls at my back. We stayed in a log lodge way north of the Arctic Circle. That was a Christmas to remember, and I think the coldest Iíve ever been.
Even though I was in the Army, I had an assignment that let my family deploy with me for the most part so Christmas while my son was young was still a family event. I was lucky in that regard. With my son following my footsteps in the Army, although doing it better than I did as he is an officer where I was enlisted, he is also lucky enough to have his family with him to spend the holidays together. I hope he realizes how special these times are.
Now, things are different, and I guess Iím glad this is the way it is now instead of those years. Iíve spent Christmas away from the family for the most part recently. Working overseas brings a unique value to those times together with the family. In 2011, I arrived at my Afghanistan assignment on Christmas Eve. I spent Christmas 2012 there also. Now in Iraq, the situation is much the same. This time will be somewhat harder for me and the rest of the handlers here since we have no mail service at all. No cards, no little gift packages that were so nice to get, no little reminders of home will be coming. Since the US military left this country, Iraq is basically nonfunctional. Nothing here works right. From power to politics, itís screwed up. We have several handlers that are supposed to be home right now, but no one can leave the country. The visa office is not working well, and there is an extensive backlog. Handlers that were returning from vacation are now stuck all over the world. We have people in U.A.E, Jordan, Kuwait, South Africa, and of course still back in the US that should already be here. This is the way it has been for months. With the Iraqi government taking off 150 days a year for religious holidays and now with a political power shift in Baghdad, finding the correct official, one that is staying in his job or one that has been moved to it, is all but impossible right now. Even when you do find the right person, chances are they will be on holiday when you can get to them. It is a nightmare for the logistical folks trying to get people moved.
I was able to call my wife the other day and told her that my leave was not happening. In fact, the way things are looking I may not be home at all during this contract. That means a long time away. As I said earlier, I was lucky. I spent the important Christmas holidays, when my son was young, together. Now, Katherine (my wife) and I spend the holidays when we can. We have agreed to celebrate the event and not the day. We will have our Christmas when I get home even if it is in August. We will put up the tree and everything. So, if you drive by my little house in the country and the Christmas lights are shining, and the paper elves are in the window, donít think we are just too lazy to take them down. It just means we are having our Christmas the only way we can. In fact, it will be a big celebration. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, our birthdays and a couple of anniversaries will all be rolled into one. It should be a real good time. Wow, I've tired already just thinking about that one.
Anyway, Merry Christmas from behind a T-wall in Iraq hereís an HO! HO! HO! for you at home.
Iím Jon Harris, and thank you for reading another
Dispatch from Downrange-Iraq