Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kalsu Christmas

Christmas has come and gone on FOB Kalsu. The New Year’s Eve bon fire and celebration is just a few days away.

Our Christmas in Iraq started weeks before when we received decorations from several wonderful people back in the US. I put up my tree and decorated it with ornaments from my last tour. Other people hung lights (against the Regs), tinsel, and window ornaments around the compound.

The official tree on the FOB is this pathetic thirty foot tall Charlie Brown tree that started to literally die the moment they cut it down. The powers that be threw a long strand of white lights around it in a half hearted attempt to decorate it. The ornaments blew off in the wind storm. My holiday spirit was a lot like the tree – trying on the outside but wilting just the same.

We spent the day before Christmas with our friends sitting around the compound. We barbequed, started a fire in the fire pit, and played with a Wii generously donated to us from a friend on the FOB. With the Wii came Guitar Hero World Tour, and a bunch of grown dorky 40 somethings got their ROCK on to Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Kiss while the 20 somethings played Rock Band in another room.

In some ways I just looked at this holiday as a place holder on the calendar, a mark to be checked to get closer to home. From Upstate New York I am used to snow by now, and I missed the holiday shopping, and Christmas music. None of that happened here; it rained two days before Christmas turning the place into a mud puddle and the only holiday music I heard was on the 24th and 25th.

I celebrated the reason for the holiday at a candle light service with a thousand other Soldiers. We sang song I remembered from dozens of Christmas services in the Catholic and United Presbyterian churches and praised God and reflected on all that is good, and can be good, in men. The light of all of those candles brought a warm and glow to the room.

I hung my head most of the time having just been told the news that three men died earlier in the day when their truck rolled over into a canal. All three drown, in Iraq, the day before Christmas. I thought about those families who would open their doors, most likely late in the evening or early Christmas day, to learn that it would be a long time before they ever had a merry Christmas again. Good God, can anything be worse than that news?

I spoke to Lisa and TJ before I went to bed. I got up super early to say hi to Lisa on my Christmas morning, it was 5:00 am in Iraq and 9:00 pm, Christmas Eve in Florida. I opened my presents with her; a “pregnant snowwoman” ornament and Too Fat Too Fish, by Artie Lange from the Howard Stern Show. I love Artie, as does Lisa, and I knew the book would be fun to read once I woke up again. Yep – I went back to bed until 9:30 am.

I think of what I’d be doing with Lisa at 9 o’clock the night before Christmas. I’d just get in from church service with her. We’d change into sweats and a t-shirt and make a nice Manhattan with good bourbon and sweet vermouth. We’d sit for a while she finished her last minute wrapping. I’d sit on the porch by the river watching boats go by to and from the Gulf. Life would be great at that moment. What the hell am I doing here?

For Christmas I spent the day with my troops. We played secret-pass-the-present-Santa; a weird game where one person opens a present but the next person can chose that present if they want. We all laughed and joked. It was nice, it really was, a brief respite from work, patrols, meetings, war, peace, and the fact that we’d rather be elsewhere. I beat my Soldiers at Risk – which they said was a good thing that reaffirmed their confidence in me. I went to the gym and ran for 30 minutes until I worked off all of the holiday food I was eating.

I should have been running our annual Christmas Tree Trot with Lisa. I spoke to my family again and tried to open presents with TJ via skype but it fell way short of expectations. The signal dropped and dropped again and again. My frustration rose and I stopped trying altogether. Calling Samantha was equally difficult with everyone trying to call home at once. We spoke for a few minutes but ultimately gave up for an opportunity to call when the lines were less crowded. I didn’t even try to call my brother. I miss being in the proximity of my family so much that anything less than that is almost avoidable.

My Christmas ended with another small bon fire and a good cigar after dinner. I stopped by Santa because he was there. Here was a guy in the dining hall dressed up for us - no kids - just a bunch of Soldiers far from hom. It was a long day doing nothing – a well deserved nothing to recharge the batteries for the next day.

In so many ways I missed the holiday altogether. I think I missed its meaning and purpose and the joy and the wonder. I couldn’t get into the spirit for so many reasons.

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