Saturday, December 13, 2003

How To Make A Soldier Cry

The upside is, it's over! The down side is, it's over! For months the lions share of our effort as the Unit Ministry Team at Camp Bonifas has been aimed at today. Approximately 8 weeks ago we generated an Operations Order (OPORD) and since issuing that OPORD to the battalion, we have been faced with planning everything about today down to the detail. Stress has become a way of life. As the day grew closer, today is just about all I thought about. So now it's over and I can breathe easier. On the other hand, today was such a success in the eyes of those that matter that I wish it could have lasted longer than it did. Today was the annual Pyong Hwa Orphanage Christmas Party. Fifty-seven kids ranging from 5 to 19 came to the JSA for a day of fun, music, food, and all out play. Here's how it went...

Several weeks ago, as part of the planning process, we collected the names and ages of the students from the orphanage and began to talk to every soldier, NCO and officer on post to see if they would sponsor a child for the party. In the end we had one US soldier and one ROK soldier sponsoring each child. Sponsoring a child meant buying them an age and gender appropriate gift, wrapping it, and then spending today with that child as much as possible. An eight hour adoption, if you will. Some soldiers adopted 3 or 4 kids. When they arrived today, we had the gym set up with huge inflatable games and ball throwing games. Outside we had 2 Humvee's ready to take the children on rides around camp. We also had one parked for them to climb all over and explore. There were 4 or 5 soldiers decked out in all their military gear with faces painted and guns and everything. Then there was a 50 caliber machine gun set up and an M240B machine gun set up for the kids to sit behind and pretend they were shooting. We also had our ambulance there in case of an emergency and also let the kids climb inside while the medics explained everything to them. So they got off the buses we had sent to pick them up, linked them up with their US and ROK soldier sponsors and then sent them into the gym to play and explore to their hearts content. The looks on their faces would melt your heart. I'm talking about the tough infantry studs playing with the kids. It was amazing.

After playtime, we marched them up to another building where they lined up and out came Santa Clause. They were pumped (the kids too). So each child, in turn, sat in Santa's lap, got their gifts from both soldiers, had their picture taken, and then moved out smartly to open and play with said gift. That was about the most fun. And to top that off, the Marine Corps gave us 57 of the most amazing gifts imaginable from "Toys for Tots" so each child received 3 presents. And man did they play and make a ton of noise (and the kids too). All during this Santa time, a brass ensemble from the 8th Army Band in Seoul were playing background Christmas music. It was perfect.

Next was dinner. We marched them down to the Dining Facility where they ate like kings. Fried chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, turkey, rice, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, fries, onion rings, salads, deserts, jello. You name it, they had it available and the kids had a wonderful meal sitting by their sponsors unable to communicate verbally but smiling ear to ear and loving each others company. One of the kids I sponsored was a 13 year old girl with a great sense of humor. We took turns at dinner pointing across the room at some imaginary distraction and then when the other turned their head we would steal something off their plate. At one point she didn't bother to distract me and just reached over with her fork and took the slice of turkey I had just cut.

As the children and their soldiers finished eating they trickled back up to the Santa room. When all had arrived, they put on a show for the soldiers that was amazing. They did about 7 folk dances in varying age groups. First a bunch of girls no more than 5 or 6 years old came out and did a traditional Korean fan dance that was amazing. You should have seen the soldiers watching them. These were love stricken men and they didn't even know it. You could see them smiling at their kids and waving as though they were their own. One of the dances was performed by two little girls around 7 years old. They were dressed in beautiful white dresses and did the most graceful dance I think I've ever seen. I remember watching them and being struck by their grace and femininity. It was beautiful and not a person in the room made a noise until they finished. I thought the windows would break for all the applause and whistling. Such tough infantry guys. After that we made an attempt to sing some carols with the kids, accompanied by the 8th Army Band, and then it was time to say good bye. The kids piled on their busses and the soldiers surrounded them. Arms and heads were moving in and out of the windows as each tried to remain with their kids at least one more second. Kisses and hugs were too numerous to count. The busses couldn't move because of the mass of soldiers pressed around them. I went to the door of one bus to tell the driver to move out slowly and a little girl in the font row jumped into my arms saying "Moksahnim" (pronounced Moke Sah Neem) which is a special reverent word for pastor. She was 6 years old. She hugged my neck and gave me a big kiss right on my mouth and then smiled at me. I melted.

Finally, the busses began to pull away with a hundred soldiers waving and blowing kisses to children they will probably never see again. No one wanted to turn and walk away. As the busses moved out a little boy leaned out the window and saluted. Every guy gasped and started laughing in order to keep from crying.

So I'm glad it's over. But if I could I would do it again right now.