News: Parade highlights Paratroopers' Christmas
By 1st Lt. Tyler Mitchell
1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq - It wouldn't qualify for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but the award-winning float for the first annual 'Geronimo Santa Parade' was a labor of love.
The troopers of Company D, 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, brightened up all of their fellow Geronimos with their entry: a humvee with antlers instead of reindeer and an armored personnel carrier instead of a sleigh, connected by engineer tape for reins.
The Santa Parade was the highlight of a day's worth of activities for the paratroopers on Forward Operating Base Iskan, allowing them to spread some holiday cheer.
The winners also received three passes for some rest and relaxation in Qatar.
The agenda also included caroling on Christmas Eve, a Christmas run called, the 'Jingle Bell Jog,' Christmas movies, a Christmas service, and a special Christmas dinner in the mess hall.
It was a full agenda, not including the multiple combat missions that consumed large elements of the task force.
Paratroopers from the 1-501st PIR woke up early Christmas morning to start the day off with some good, old fashioned physical training – the Jingle Bell Jog.
Staff Sgt. Michael Iozzo, from Company C, was the first place finisher for the second 501st race in a row.
"I got called out, so I had to show up and defend my title," he said.
Each participant received a Jingle Bell Jog t-shirt, a keesake for them to remember a unique Christmas on FOB Iskan.
After an outdoor Christmas religious service led by Chaplain Dan Hardin, the paratroopers prepared for their big parade. All residents of FOB Iskan, to include the civilian contractor team, decorated floats for the battalion's Christmas parade.
1st Lt. Thomas Angstadt, said that a lot more paratroopers showed up than expected.
"We had a really good turn out," he said.
The highlight occurred when one of Santa's elves, who happened to be a scantily clad male soldier, jumped out of the Company D sleigh and hugged Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight.
With the movie, A Christmas Story, playing all day in the battalion's movie room called, the Bastogne Room, there were plenty of activities.
"It was just like it is at home, and we kept it running all day," said one trooper from Company A.
Paratroopers enjoyed the holiday festivities, as well as a traditional Christmas dinner. Even Lt. Col. Salah, the Musayyib Iraqi police chief, showed up to help Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage, commander of the battalion, serve chow to the Paratroopers.
"I didn't expect there to be this much food," Salah said. "It is all very beautiful."
Throughout the festivities, the Geronimos didn't slow down the operational tempo for the holiday. They just extended the holiday timeline and had a second, make-up Christmas Dec. 27 for those who missed the one on Dec. 25 while out on patrol.
The day came to a close with a Geronimo Bonfire, where paratroopers shared war stories, sparkling grape juice and near-beer. Several smoked carefully hoarded cigars they had been saving for a special moment.
The troopers of Company D celebrated their three Qatar passes for winning the Santa Parade float contest.
But most of all, the paratroopers of Geronimo stood together this holiday season, wishing for home but making the best of what they had.