The aura of Christmas has settled on our camp. Many of the men returned from a mission in time for the holiday, all safe and sound.
Two factors have helped boost our holiday spirits: mail and dogs. We have received a ton of letters and packages over the past several days - important links to our families and friends back home. Meanwhile, the men have begun to adopt some of the many dogs in the camp.
My assistant and I adopted one on Sunday. We've named her "CD," which is short for Chapel Dog. We took her into our room, figuring if she stayed with us at night, she would sleep and not bark.
Mercifully, the plan worked.
The veterinarian spayed her yesterday. It was touch-and-go for a while, but it seems that CD is going to be OK. It will be nice to have a pet.
Many soldiers have taken other pets, too: cats and even a turtle. Sometimes having things that remind us of home (i.e., "Rover") make the separation at holiday time less bitter.
The Christmas menu was a full spread: turkey, ham, beef loin, jalapeño poppers, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn, green beans, collard greens, apple pie, pumpkin pie, peach pie ... I could go on and on. We have a new dining facility, decked with Christmas decorations and set up with a TV playing classic Christmas movies such as "It's A Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story."
The meal was so big, we had to eat in shifts to accommodate everyone. And, in keeping with Army tradition, the officers in my company served the meal to the enlisted soldiers. The tradition really makes sense: servant leadership in practice! We did this for Thanksgiving as well. It's a great way to identify with the soldiers and let them know we care.
Recently, we had an awards ceremony for some task-force heroes over the past few months. Most awards were presented for actions that soldiers took in combat.
These men are very brave, and many of them have seen combat multiple times. They have come through it stronger, tougher, and more determined.
Based on recent conversations I've had, many of the men wondered for a while if they would make it to Christmas. When I hear the details of what they have expe rienced, I'm convinced that God has provided protection time and time again beyond what body armor or an armored vehicle can offer.
The holiday worship schedule is a busy time for me, but I consider it a high privilege to lead men in Christmas worship in a combat zone. I'm reminding soldiers of the hope that Christ brings despite the circumstances they may find themselves in - whether it's cold, or danger, or separation from loved ones.
We also have three Jewish soldiers in the task force. One of them, who works in my office, has been celebrating Hanukkah. His wife sent a menorah, and the soldier has been lighting the candles every night since Hanukkah started. He seems to take great joy in reestablishing his Jewish roots. He hasn't been to synagogue in a while, but it's obvious to me he wants to tap into his spiritual side as a result of being here. I even had him sing the Hanukkah song for me on the first night he lit the candles.
• 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.