I signed on the dotted line, and I was well aware when I did so that I would probably not always be home for the holidays. That first year was tough, but the world didn’t end. I was at Davis-Monthan in Tucson, Arizona, and it didn’t feel anything like Christmas. It’s pretty easy to ignore everything when it’s 70 degrees and sunny. It was just another day.
The oddest Christmas was the one I spent in Korea. I was a short-timer by then – less than one month away from rotating home, so I was dealing better than a lot of folks. I had volunteered to take the duty that night so I’d be busy, and then Christmas Day, I would be working the serving line at the chow hall with the commander. Christmas Eve was a unique experience in the squadron dorm. You encountered everything from the folks who are unconcerned about the holidays, to the folks who were emotionally crippled by being away from their families. I was closer to the unconcerned side.
My favorite memory is of an impromptu dance party. The music and laughter from the third floor dayroom drew me in and there I found about twenty people with a boom box and a bunch of beer. All the furniture had been pushed back against the walls and everyone was either dancing or standing in clumps talking.
“Shirt! Shirt! Come have a beer!” SSgt Sherry Ogren was at the center of the room, beer in hand, waving at me. Sherry ran the orderly room and was my suitemate, meaning we shared a bathroom.
I was still in BDUs and boots, but I accepted a beer, happy to be with a group of people who were just having a good time. The music was eclectic, moving between rock and country – all of it upbeat. There were no dance partners, no slow ballads, and no problems. This was a party to get through Christmas Eve. I was having so much fun that I actually had a second beer.
A little later, the music changed and SSgt Watson jumped up yelling, “Electric Slide time! Everyone on the floor!”
This would be the part where I remind you all that I am a woman who completely lacks rhythm and grace. I’m the one who was always in the back row of the aerobics class because when everyone else went left, I would undoubtedly go right—there’d be a crash, a pile of bodies, and eventually crying.
The teasing and easy abuse began when I was the only one still leaning against the wall. SSgt Watson decided that we all danced or no one danced, and she turned the music off. I bowed to the pressure and went to the back of the group. She started the music again. It became a “what the hell” situation. I had two beers in me and no one had a camera. This was in the days before cell phone cameras, video, and Facebook, thank God! It had been a long time since I’d laughed as hard as I did that night. Poor SSgt Watson finally declared that I was a hopeless case—even she couldn’t teach me to do the Electric Slide.
I had a third beer and everyone kept dancing. Other people wandered in and out and more beer arrived along with more people. Maybe, it was the fourth beer, but I didn’t notice any problems that night. Everyone was still dancing or standing in clumps talking, and amazingly, the party never got too loud or too stupid. It lasted until the beer ran out, somewhere after 0400. Now, I must admit that I’m unsure of the exact time; however, I do recall being a little green when I showed up at the dining hall to help serve Christmas dinner.
I am also sure that it was one of the best Christmas Eve’s that I’ve ever had.
You will no doubt be asked to spend a little time at Christmas thinking about the men and women who are serving in the armpits of the world, but I will also ask you to spare a thought for the folks that are simply serving away from home. There are many who aren’t in the media spotlight of our current war.
This Christmas there will be thousands of men and women at sea, in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and across the United States. They will be in the control tower of a base in Arizona, in the fire stations in Ohio, and in airplanes around the globe. They will also be in revetments in Korea, in bunkers in Afghanistan, in trucks guarding flight lines and bomb dumps in South Dakota. And they will be in the dining halls of every military facility, working through the night to make sure Christmas dinner is on the serving line in time. They will come together as a chosen family and each will at some point in the day wish they were at home with their loved ones.
They all volunteered to go do the job that needs to be done. No one wants to go home more than the people in uniform do. And I assure you – no one prays for peace on Earth more than those who put on the uniform every day. I hope you will all take a moment and join your hopes and prayers with ours that the coming year is more peaceful than the last.