A 'Charlie Brown' Christmas tree arrives in Afghanistan
Friday was the national bazaar. The townspeople come to the base and set up shops in which to sell their wares. It's a lot of fun, and many useful (and some not so useful) items are sold.
The soldiers enjoy haggling over the price of a blanket or a DVD. They sometimes buy jewelry or a tea set for that special someone. The most recent bazaar seemed larger than usual, but attendance was a little down, perhaps because so many soldiers are out on missions. This weekly activity adds a sense of normalcy (shopping) to the deployment and helps the local economy.
But buying a scarf for grandma was the last thing on many soldiers' minds on Friday. The resupply group that brings mail was coming. When the helicopter arrived, dozens of bags were unloaded and moved to a designated area for sorting. It's always a real madhouse, because of the time it takes to unload and sort. But the guys don't seem to mind - they're getting their mail.
There were more bundles than usual yesterday because of the coming holiday. Christmas gifts and cards were everywhere. A card from Mom, or a package from a spouse instantly improves morale.
One soldier in my office finally got his Christmas tree. He had it set up within minutes, complete with lights, candy canes, and a star on top. I received a small tree as well, and put mine beside his in competition. My tree is much smaller with no lights (think "A Charlie Brown Christmas"), but it's my tree, and that's good enough.
There should be more mail coming to lift the soldiers' spirits. I, like many, am hoping to get that special gift to make my holiday complete.
Saturday was "Special Fashions Day." This means that for one day, the soldiers can forget about their uniforms and wear practically anything they want. For those of us who have civilian clothes, this might mean jeans and a sweat shirt. Others mix and match their uniforms by combining gym gear with combat boots. Headgear is optional.
Sometimes a baseball cap is the perfect complement to the military garb that usually requires a specific military hat. Now that it's colder, the guys might just stick to their Army issue watch caps.
Either way, Special Fashions Day is a great way for the guys to unwind and forget about certain conventions. They never forget, however, that they are soldiers.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent service took place the next day and the theme was love. It may be difficult for some soldiers to focus on love in this place, so far from loved ones. On the other hand, some of us learn more about love during times like this.
I guess that's a big part of my job, to remind soldiers that love is wherever God is; and that we know that God loves us.
My hope is that my Sunday messages convey that adequately.
It will be interesting to see how the soldiers respond as we get closer to Christmas. Will they become discouraged because of being so far from home at the holidays? Or will they experience the joy of Christmas on a new and exciting level?
My guess is that it will be a mixed reaction. Some will be sad, others joyous because of memories of Christmases past and the prospect of going home in the coming year.
The one thing that is certain is that these soldiers will carry on with their mission with focus and determination.
I am proud to serve these men and women and I hope I can help many of them celebrate the holidays in a meaningful way.
• US Army Capt. Ken Godwin is task-force chaplain for the 1st Battalion of the 87th Infantry Regiment, currently located at a fire base in the Paktika Province of eastern Afghanistan.