Summit Bowl II and other tales from the front

Here in eastern Afghanistan, we are on the front lines of the war on terror and some very important people are recognizing it.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, visited Christmas Day. He brought holiday greetings to everyone and pinned the Combat Infantryman

badge and the Combat Medical badge on many of our soldiers and medics. The general was accompanied by US Rep. Jim Marshall (D) of Georgia, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The congressman also had some great things to say about our work here. It means a lot that these men, who could have gone anywhere they wanted to go for Christmas, chose to be here. It also says a lot about the job this task force is doing.

The other big holiday event is the Summit Bowl. It's a football game pitting officers against enlisted men. The inaugural game, held on Thanksgiving, had the enlisted men coming out on top.

But the officers spent December tweaking their lineup and playbook. They must have done something right. Summit Bowl II was a surprise blowout. The officers really put a lickin' on the noncommissioned officers and enlisted men, outscoring them by three touchdowns. Since their defeat in Summit Bowl I, many of the officers were forced into early retirement and replaced with "ringers," who seemed to get overnight promotions that only lasted for the duration of the rematch.

Summit Bowl III will be played sometime in the New Year. It will truly be a grudge match and I fully expect the trash talk to begin in earnest over the next few days. This has been perhaps one of the most fun-filled ways that the guys have devised to improve morale.

After kicking their tails in football, the officers served the Christmas meal to the enlisted - an Army tradition. But the most telling example of getting into the holiday spirit was when the officers and senior enlisted men pulled guard duty for the junior enlisted. This gave the soldiers a chance to relax and enjoy the holiday without being reminded of some of their more grueling daily responsibilities.

I have been able to lead special holiday services over the past several days. On Christmas Eve, we had an evening service in the chapel. There were more worshipers than usual and the mood seemed light. We sang the usual Christmas carols such as "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "O Little Town Of Bethlehem." We also had a Christmas quiz to test our knowledge of the Christmas story. It was a way of drawing attention to how well we "know" the story Jesus and his birth. We ended the service by singing "Silent Night." I hope that I succeeded in my goal of helping others be better prepared to celebrate Jesus' birth by knowing him better.

On Christmas Day, we celebrated by singing other great Christmas hymns and focusing on Christ's incarnation. The first chapter of John provided the text for my message entitled, "What's The Word." John's message that the Word is God and that the Word "became flesh and dwelt among us" is one that I've always wanted to use as a Christmas text. This, in my mind, is the bottom line of what Christmas is all about. "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" served as the perfect closing hymn for the occasion. My message was well received. It was such a privilege to bring God's message to God's people on Christmas Day in a combat zone.

Given the circumstances, the task force is celebrating the holidays in style, and morale is high. On an occasion when many soldiers could have been down about being away from home, they made the best of it and came through the day with their spirits up.

I know many soldiers considered it a merry Christmas. There's no doubt that it was a memorable one for everyone.

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.

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