The Nineteenth Christmas…
As with every Christmas, our thoughts go to our service men and women who are spending the holidays on foreign soil — in 150 countries — especially to those still in harm’s way.
They will be spending the holidays as millions of their comrades have done ever since our country was founded: far away from home, far away from their loved ones, keeping us safe and free.
If there is any consolation, the number of active-duty U.S. military serving overseas has been gradually decreasing in the last few years.
In 2016, the number of active-duty U.S. military serving overseas dipped below 200,000 for the first time in 60 years.
Today, in 2019, “only” around 170,000 of our troops will be spending their Christmas in foreign lands.
Of these, 12,000 to 13,000 troops are serving in Afghanistan and some continue to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, another American service member was killed in Afghanistan, the day before Christmas Eve, “bringing to 20 the number of troops who have died during combat operations this year.”
In 2015, I lamented, “This will be 15th consecutive Christmas thousands of our troops spend in harm’s way, on the cruel battlefields of the Middle East, instead of at home with their loved ones.”
This Christmas makes it the 19th Christmas and while, yes, it is a “consolation” that the number of U.S. military who are spending Christmas in some far-off land is down, the real consolation will be when most of our troops are safely back home, where they belong, on Christmas Eve.
After 18 Christmases of wishing for this, it is easy to run out of words to express such, along with our gratitude and best wishes to our heroes.
Thus, this Christmas here are some words from Christmases past:
To those troops for whom the only bright lights and glow they may see this time of the year are muzzle flashes or the eerie light through their night-vision devices, instead of enjoying the bright Christmas lights and the glow of a cozy fire with their loved ones back home, on this
15th 19th Christmas at war, may we be forgiven once again for borrowing from that classic Christmas Song and for paraphrasing a little bit:
And so we’re offering this simple phrase,
To our heroes from Baghdad to Kandahar,
Although it’s been said many times, many ways,
A very Merry Christmas to you from afar.
(The names of military camps and countries where our troops are serving today may have changed from nine or 19 years ago, but the thoughts and wishes remain the same.)
CODA: I have not come across a more touching image to represent the melancholy of a military Christmas away from home than of soldiers praying during a candlelight Christmas prayer service in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, in celebration of Christmas nine years ago, below.