Compared to recent days, today was fairly uneventful. A steady, cold drizzle ensured that this was quite possibly the muddiest and least comfortable Christmas I've ever experienced. For all appearances, it was not very noteworthy. But appearances can be deceiving.
From Bastogne to Baghdad, Christmas and war have always seemed to travel hand in hand. Soldiers from most generations have endured Christmas in the face of battle. And in the past 36 hours I have learned two very important lessons about Christmas, the nature of war, and the spirit of the American Warrior.
Lesson Number One ... war is unrelenting. Despite the fact that today is a national holiday and a time normally spent relaxing, opening presents, and watching or playing football, the fighting didn't stop. Throughout the day the drone of war could be heard in just about every direction. Whether it was an aircraft of some sort zipping overhead, the rapid ping of nearby gunfire, or the thump of a distant explosion, it didn't stop. War continues at a breakneck pace. Even in moments of relative silence it hung in the air. There is no escaping the fact that we are in harms way. Some more than others.
Lesson Number Two ... Christmas is unrelenting. Last night we held a Christmas Eve service in celebration of the birth of Jesus. In that service, I came to realize that the American soldier is indeed a unique and awesome individual. Despite the roar of mortars in the background, smiling faces sang, Silent Night. Despite the complete lack of greenery for miles, men of all ranks shook hands and sang, Deck the Halls. And despite being away from friends and family, our battle-hardened brothers joyfully sang, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Men who look like they'd just as soon break you in half as speak to you, smiled at one another and hugged one another as wishes of "Merry Christmas" echoed throughout our little chapel. After the service we gathered in a small trailer converted into something of a theatre to watch a Christmas movie or two and laugh together. Believe it or not, gifts were exchanged via Secret Santa's and we laughed as men hollered, "Thanks, it's just what I always wanted!" upon unwrapping a bar of deodorant, or a ball cap, or whatever else could be found at the Post Exchange. Today has been no different. With each soldier I passed a hand was quickly extended in greeting as "Merry Christmas" hit me like a freight train. I think I've been patted on the back one million times today.
It would be easy for today, Christmas, and the circumstances we find ourselves in to be an excuse to foster self-pity or to retreat into a shell of depression. However, our soldiers don't work that way. I am at a loss to express, today, my pride at being an American and my love for my brothers-at-arms. Because while I do not have my wife and children with me, I am nevertheless with family.