HERAT, Afghanistan - Day by day, the holidays continue to draw near.
Somewhere in America there’s a father tossing a baseball with his child. Elsewhere, another is helping their spouse prepare a nice meal as Nat King Cole tunes play in the background, and a decorated tree twinkles in the living room.
For service members at Camp Arena, Herat province, Afghanistan, these ideas may seem like a dream right about now. These troops have a less-blissful scene unfolding daily right before their very eyes … Afghan people who really don’t have much of anything at all.
However, these people also see hope here. They continue to witness progress in this land and they’re committed to further security, civil-military cooperation and development here.
These troops hail from a wide array of career fields, from different branches of the military, and from towns and cities across the world.
Despite that, they unite behind each other and want the American people to know that camaraderie is keeping them warm this December, and that they thank all Americans for their continuing support for the ongoing efforts here.
A fine example of that support arrived to the U.S. Forces -Afghanistan Detachment - West headquarters recently. Clifton students, ranging from elementary school through pre-school, sent dozens of hand-crafted cards with personalized messages.
According to the unit’s sergeant major who hails from Dacula, Ga., U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Ira Turner, the cards were an inspiration to all the service members on staff.
In addition to the sergeant major, recipients of the cards were: Army Col. Ricardo Ramirez; Air Force Lt. Col. Travis Tankersley; Army Majors Chad Kirchner, Matthew Jenkins, Danyele Jordan and Luis Cruz; Army Capt. Edgar Kanapathy; Army Warrant Officer Perry Guinn; Army Sgt. 1st Class Louis Tova; and Army Staff Sgt. Jason Timberlake.
As the sergeant major and fellow soldiers read through the cards, they came upon a touching message from Samantha Castro.
"I think that you are a good person, even though I don’t know you, because you are saving us and putting your life in danger," she said. "It’s sad that you won’t be with your family in this holiday."
Though Samantha didn’t add her age to the card, she was clearly older than some children, who rather than writing messages, drew or colored pictures.
Liza, a 3-year-old from the Boys & Girls Club of Clifton, simply signed her name under the words happy holidays, and colored a present.
Meanwhile, her ‘club-mate,’ 3-year-old Eva Justiniano, colored a Menorah and Christmas tree.
Relishing in the moment, Turner said he hoped there was a way to let the children know that his soldiers got their messages.
Working with the Regional Command-West Public Information Office, his wish was granted.
"Isn’t it a blessing to know that so many people back home care," said the sergeant major, as he chuckled loudly at the effort put forth by the children, despite obvious misspellings typical of their ages.
One example was an elementary school student named Mia, who cleverly drew four white snowmen on a red background, and inside wrote:
"Dear soldiers, I hope you like this card and that I’m giving you a ‘Meery’ Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukah. Bye!"
The next card held a more-patriotic message.
"I hope you guys win the war because I love my country," said Thomas Rosado.
Well Thomas, Sgt. Major Turner guarantees that all soldiers agree.
"I also hope you have a great Christmas," continued Thomas. "Remember don’t quit your job as a soldier. You are very good at it. So have an awesome Christmas and do your best at this war."
Bringing holiday spirit remained the overarching intent, but one clever child wanted to know about diversity in the Army.
"Merry Christmas! My name is Mary Dluga and I would like to wish you the best holidays! I also want to thank you for protecting our country," said little-Miss Dluga. "P.S. – do you have any girl soldiers?"
Again, the sergeant major and a visiting lieutenant colonel laughed out loud, then said to assure Dluga that there are many fine professional females serving in all the branches of the U.S. military.
After reading all the cards, Turner distributed the cards and accompanying supply of chocolate, Christmas music CDs and other gifts to his soldiers.
With one final statement, the sergeant major wanted to be sure to thank all the Clifton children an equally happy holiday season.
"To all you who took the time to write us, please know that your letters did not go un-noticed," said the sergeant major. "Your letters, cards and gifts inspired us this year. We will never give up and continue to do whatever is necessary to build and develop Afghanistan so that someday the children here may have lives as fortunate as yours. Thank you and Merry Christmas."