Many people spend their entire lives not missing a single holiday event with their families. I remember the months leading up to my leaving active duty…Thanksgiving was approaching, and I volunteered to be the only officer from my unit to stay behind while the other Marines went home to their families. My then fiancée (now wife) was aghast, how could I deliberately choose to miss a holiday?
For me, as with many service members, the missing of a holiday, anniversary, or birthday is a part of the job. In my experience, Marines are quicker to share how many holidays and family events they’ve missed than how many times they’ve been deployed. Why is this so? While I’m sure there are specialists better equipped to explain, I believe I can speak for most service members when I say, this information is not shared because we relish spending time away from our loved ones, but because it reinforces the importance of the commitment we have made. A commitment to serve our country regardless of what we may be missing back home.
An excerpt from a blog entry I wrote on Christmas Day 2007, while deployed in Iraq, captures my experience of being half a world away from my family during the holiday season. (Note: Christmas that year coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.)
Subject: The best gift I gave for Christmas
Date: Tue, 25 Dec 2007 07:23:25 -0600
The best gift I gave for Christmas this year is furniture for my best (Iraqi) friend’s diawayn. A diawayn is a place to sit, traditionally on the floor, and eat, drink chai and solve the world’s problems. Since he is the eldest of six brothers and has four cute little girls, he doesn’t have the money to purchase his own furniture. I love the concept of a diawayn – with everyone sitting on the floor in a round room. It gives the feeling like all can share in the discussion, it is much homier than a conference room, and there isn’t the expectation that things will be solved in a hurry.
On patrol, the streets are empty and houses are full of families in celebration, either in prayer or a secular family gathering. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Iraq, Jerusalem, Rome, or Minneapolis, the holidays remind us all that this time of year is to be with those people who love you and more importantly the people you love.
Happy Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, and Eyamic Sayiede (Happy Eid al-Adha),
Just as they are the support network that drive us to keep pursuing the nation’s goals while we are deployed, those same families are our first level support network when we return. And while the return from deployment is initially a joyful occasion, many veterans and consequently, their families, struggle with reintegration.
Regardless of background – military or not, there is one thing that all people want, to feel valued. The quickest way to feel valued is through meaningful work. If you are looking for a meaningful gift this holiday season, think about what you can do to further the employment opportunities of our returning heroes….