News: Deployed soldiers bring home to the holidays
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - “Christmas Eve will find me. Where the love light gleams. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
Bing Crosby’s familiar tune reminds us all of the holiday season. For millions, the holidays are a time of togetherness, love and happiness. We give thanks for what we have, take long drives to visit family and friends, and enjoy the smells of holiday cooking, turkey, pie, stuffing, the sweet scent of apple cider.
For deployed soldiers, this can be a difficult time. With the operation’s tempo, training schedules and time zone differences, the military lifestyle can make holiday traditions difficult. Soldiers deployed to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, woke up on Thanksgiving morning far away from home.
Some participated in an early morning 5k run, while others took advantage of a chance to sleep in. Unit commanders took a break to thank their soldiers by serving all the fixings for a holiday meal in the chow hall.
Decorations transformed the familiar area into a holiday party. Over 5000 miles from home, these soldiers are celebrating the holiday season.
It is important for soldiers to take a break and to get themselves out of the mundane routine they find themselves in during a deployment. Military installations try to help ease the pain of being away from home by encouraging soldiers to celebrate the holidays. Keeping soldiers spirits high is fundamental to mission readiness.
“Small traditions that individuals may have, they are able to take part in here,” said Spc. Ben Osterhout, a Fayetteville, Ark., native. “It helps make morale better. They aren’t just here completely without any Thanksgiving, some holiday. They get some way of celebrating.”
Sgt. Rebecca Galloway, a personnel non-commissioned officer with the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, spent Thanksgiving Day with her close friends. Together they created a Thanksgiving dinner in the barracks area, complete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Wearing her Clemson sweater and fuzzy socks, she listened to Christmas carols on the radio and decorated a small Christmas tree she had purchased here.
While she decorated her tree here in Kosovo, her husband back home decorated a matching tree. Despite the thousands of miles between them they were able to share that tradition through Skype. She may not be home, but the South Carolina native is determined to celebrate the holidays as festively as she can here.
For many soldiers, including Galloway, this is the first time they have been deployed. The support of their families at home and their military family here helps them get by. With internet access, and the technology of Skype, FaceTime and MagicJack, keeping in contact with loved ones back home is much easier.
“I am going to Skype with my family, with my nieces and nephews before they eat Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “I miss them dearly, but at least I get to see them, and I know I will be home next year to celebrate with them.”
“With Skype, and the internet, it’s not so bad,” said Osterhout, an air crew member with F Company, 2nd Battalion, 238th Air Ambulance, Arkansas Army National Guard. “I get to talk to my family pretty much as often as I want, and it looks like a decent meal here, but of course I would rather be home.”
Eating turkey, watching football, and spending time with family are all things that we so often take for granted. Galloway said that before she got here, she had been spending far too much time worrying about things that didn’t really matter, and not enough time on the people who do matter.
“You spend so much time chasing that one dream, that at times, you let other things go by, important things like your friends and your family,” she said.
For her, this deployment has helped her rediscover that focus and finding what truly means the most to her.
Osterhout agreed. He said Thanksgiving at home is a fairly busy day that includes “visiting with the family, eating good food, having family time.”
While he is missing that this year, the three years he has spent with his unit has led to friendships and a family atmosphere among the crew.
“I have a great support team here, with guys that have been here before,” he said. “They know what I am going through, they have been through deployments before, so they know what situations may come up. They are very supportive and very helpful.”
Osterhout said that because his team has been together for so long, they have developed relationships that create a second family, a second home. He has his big brothers here that help guide him along the way, and little brothers that he helps as they come on board.
“We all joke, and laugh and play pranks, it’s pretty fun,” he said.
Galloway said that by making things homey, by having the tree up, the music playing and the smell of food cooking, it helped make things easier for her and her friends who were having a hard time being so far away from home.
Such relationships and special traditions help make the time pass quickly, said Galloway.
“The support of my friends, of my family here, has been the most helpful to me. I chose to come on this deployment, and I knew it would be hard for my husband, my nieces and my nephews. But I am here doing what I need to do, and they are supporting me from home.”