News: Iraq’s Winter Wonderland – Troops across Iraq celebrate Christmas
Story by Spc. Roland Hale
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Over 2,000 troops deployed to Iraq with a Fort Riley, Kan., aviation brigade spent the Christmas holiday away from home this year.
Serving on 14 bases across Iraq, soldiers with the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, did their best in the weeks leading up to the holiday to turn the desert into a winter wonderland.
And they got pretty close on Christmas Day.
Wreaths, garland and tinsel replaced the usually austere scenery on Camp Taji, the unit’s headquarters. It was the first Christmas spent in Iraq for some soldiers, but for most it marked another holiday spent away from home.
Staff Sgt. Justin Puls, a native of Plantation, Fla., is one of the latter. Assigned to the Headquarters Support Company of the 601st Aviation Support Battalion, he is serving his second tour here.
He hopes this will be his last Christmas here, he said.
“This Christmas I’m thankful for the fact that Iraq has changed a lot,” said Puls. “Christmas is about giving, and we’re giving them their country back.”
“Operation New Dawn took effect in September and I look at that like an early Christmas present because it sets the tone for us leaving,” he said.
On a more personal note, Puls said that one of the things most important to him this Christmas is taking care of the younger troops.
“This is their first time away, their first Army experience, and it’s hard,” said Puls. “I know what it’s like, and anything I can do to make it better makes me happy.”
Pfc. Anthony Norah, a 21-year-old native of Dallas, Texas, is one of those soldiers. He hasn’t had a Christmas at home since he joined the Army two years ago.
“It’s almost like another day at work,” he said. “But there’s a lot of people that interact with us and keep up that holiday cheer, the holiday spirit.”
Norah is assigned to the brigade’s headquarters company, and spent his Christmas Day working as a radio operator in its tactical operations center.
“Nothing beats home, but it’s nice to make-do the best we can,” he said,
Norah and his friends got a chance to relax a little at a company party on Christmas Eve. Soldiers also enjoyed a traditional holiday meal of turkey, stuffing and other treats at their dining facility Christmas Day. On Camp Taji, the dining facility served over 5,000 people.
First-timers and veterans alike, some of the brigade’s personnel worked straight through the festivities.
As the only aviation brigade in Iraq, the unit is pulling the weight of what used to be shared by four aviation brigades. Christmas Day for many of the brigade’s flight crews meant another day of flying. The brigade has flown over 100,000 hours, 200,000 passengers and 7 million pounds of cargo since this March.
Every hour, person and pound brings them closer to home though, as they are scheduled to return to Fort Riley this spring. It is likely the last Christmas the unit will spend in Iraq.