When it comes to being deployed on military operations over the holidays, I am far from special. I, like so many others, I have missed time at home either in training, being forward deployed, or on combat deployments. Despite being away from home, military holidays were always a special time for me. Military holidays help us appreciate both our “military” family and our loved ones at home.
Here are a few of my most meaningful holidays away.
Christmas - 1st Battalion (M), 5th Infantry, Camp Hovey, Republic of Korea, 1990. My first duty station as an Army, 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry was in the Republic of Korea. I joined my unit when they were securing a portion of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to the North of Seoul. The DMZ is a physically beautiful place with trees, wildlife, and lots of signs warning of mines. Christmas was the first holiday we had when we returned to our main camp from the DMZ. In the US Military, officers and senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s – the Sergeants that run everything) serve the holiday meal. The military tradition of Christmas in the dining facility was special because it was a time when the Battalion Officers serve dinner to the soldiers and NCO’s of the Battalion. In the US Army, officers always eat last, but getting to serve holiday dinner to the soldiers was very special because it reinforced the US Army’s traditions of selfless service and service with dedication to those that you lead. This was the 1st time that I was away from home for the Christmas Holidays and it will always be special to me because it refocused me from missing home to focusing me on serving those that I led.
Thanksgiving - 1st Special Warfare Training Battalion (Airborne), outside Fort Bragg, NC in the First Phase of Special Forces Training, 1994. Special Forces training was the first time that we planned to stay in the field over a major holiday. We were training in the first phase of Special Forces training (the Qualification Course or Q-Course) and we had been in the field for about 2 weeks living under ponchos and doing lots of land navigation, patrols through the woods, and learning how to lead small groups of 15-30 soldiers. Fellow students and cadre served Thanksgiving dinner out of old steel containers with a scowling Major General Garrison looking on while smoking a cigar. MG Garrison, the same person in the movie Blackhawk Down, was a legendary person in the Special Forces community for his leadership by example, combat experience, and desire for difficult combat training. He was scowling, but the meal was perfect, including too many pies so every student got at least a quarter of a pumpkin or apple pie. MG Garrison told us to enjoy it, because there would be holidays when we were in combat. Little did we know at the time, but he was as right as right can be. That Thanksgiving I learned that continuous combat focus was the military way of life.
Christmas, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Illizda, Outside of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, 1996. During Christmas 1996, my Special Forces “A-Team” and I were on our first deployment to Bosnia-Hercegovina in support of the NATO Peace Enforcement mission that ended the Bosnian War with the Dayton Peace Accords. My team and I were stationed in Zenica, a few hours from Sarajevo at one of the largest steel mills in Europe, with a Romanian Engineer Battalion of about 1000 soldiers. My team’s mission was to act as a liaison, security, communication, and coordination element to make the Romanian’s as efficient as possible in their role of road and building construction to support the NATO forces. We spent about an hour eating dinner in a bombed-out hotel that was hastily repaired and serving as the Special Operations Headquarters. My team and I sat, ate, and joked amid a sea of weapons, helmets, body armor, ammunition, and radios during our first break on a long deployment. This Christmas was a symbol of the normalcy and importance that the US military brings to the world and that even one US soldier can make a difference in the world.
Memorial Day, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Baghdad, Outside of the Baghdad International Airport, 2003. The remembrance ceremony that the legendary Colonel Mulholland led in May 2003, was exceptional as well as surreal. It was exceptional in the fact that it was the most meaningful Memorial Day most of us had experienced in military service. We had been in Baghdad less than a month after a successful and lightning fast ground invasion. Even though the invasion had been a military success, it still felt like a failure to us because we had fellow soldiers Killed in Action (KIA) and others wounded. It was surreal because we did not know how many more Memorial Day remembrances we would have in Iraq or when the killing of soldiers would end. That Memorial Day reinforced the ultimate value of the lives of all US military personnel. Every person and every life is valuable and when we lose a friend and comrade, we must do as much as we can for the rest of our lives to remember that person and reinforce the positive qualities of their lives.
More than ever, being deployed over the holidays teaches us for the rest of our lives to appreciate our loved ones, our families, our friends, and our comrades. Holidays especially reinforce the positive aspects as well as the personal sacrifice of what it means to serve. I hope this holiday season is one of joy, peace, and togetherness for all.
Share your military holiday memories in the comment section below!
About the blogger:
Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 360 articles in over 185 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics. Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better. Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management. Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @CombatToCorporate and http://www.combattocorporate.com/.
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