CAMP BONDSTEEL, KOSOVO
CAMP BONSTEEL, Kosovo - As the halfway point approaches of their deployment approaches, National Guard soldiers in Kosovo miss family, friends and the winter holiday traditions of home.
While nothing can replicate the feeling of being home, the relationships and bonds within the unit, can help ease the pain of being away. Soldiers from the Hawaii National Guard are doing their best to keep unit morale and spirits high, while bringing some of the carefree “aloha spirit” to Multinational Battle Group East, Kosovo Force.
Throughout the world people celebrate holidays in their own ways. Some celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus. Some don’t celebrate anything. Santa Claus is known to some as St. Nick, Father Christmas, and Kanakaloka. Some say "Merry Christmas," "Feliz Navidad," and "Mele Kalikimaka."
For most, Santa wears a red velvet suit and drives a sleigh pulled by his nine reindeer. But in sunny Hawaii, even he sheds the corporate clothes in the spirit of aloha. Sometimes he wears a casual hooded sweatshirt over his board shorts. Instead of a sleigh, he rides in an outrigger canoe pulled by dolphins.
In the early 1800s, Protestant missionaries introduced the islanders to their Christmas and their traditions. Before that, Hawaiians had their own celebration, a four-month festival known as Makahiki. During this period, all wars were forbidden. The idea of “peace and goodwill to all men” has long been associated with the winter months and long embedded in the spirit of native islanders.
The peaceful nature and carefree spirit have gone a long way to shape the way Hawaiians live. Family is of utmost importance to everyone. Respect and understanding go a long way in island life. The spirit of aloha is a gift that anyone can receive, and anyone can give. The soldiers here in Kosovo are aiming to do just that, spreading the gift of aloha throughout the deployment.
“We are all in this situation together,” said Staff Sgt. Gregory Lum Ho, a sheet metal mechanic from Hilo, Hawaii. “We are deployed with soldiers from California, Maine, South Carolina, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Kentucky. Different cultures, different worlds.”
“I guess, for us, if we can bring our attitudes here to Europe, share with all these different cultures, spread the spirit, the world will be a better place” said Lum Ho. “You see us smiling. If we can just make one person smile throughout the day, it just makes this a better place.”
“I know this isn’t the best place to be, but we can make the best of it,” he continued. “If you can make someone who is having a bad day, a bad week, smile, it just makes a nice family. You don’t have to be from Hawaii to have aloha spirit, to spread the aloha spirit. Spirit makes the world a better place.”
Aloha is the most common greeting in Hawaii. It translates to two separate words, one that means share, and one that means essence of life. Both aloha and its counterpart mahalo are indescribable and non-definable words alone; to be understood, they must be experienced. Linguists differ in their opinions, but it is mostly accepted that on a spiritual level, aloha is an invocation of the divine and mahalo is a divine blessing. Both are acknowledgments of the divinity that dwells within and without.
Aloha literally can be broken down into “alo” meaning presence, front, face, and “ha” meaning breath. Therefore, the translation can be “the presence of divine breath.”
The aloha spirit lies within the mind and heart within each person. It is the ideas that each person must self reflect, and bring good feelings to others, said Sgt. 1st Class Soloman Makaneole, the safety non-commissioned officer in charge for Task Force Aviation. It is a combination of kindness, unity, pleasantness, humility, and patience. Aloha is more than a greeting, it is the working philosophy of the people of Hawaii, and it is this trait which the Hawaiians hope to leave behind with everyone they encounter.
“Aloha is more than word of greeting, or farewell,” said Lum Ho. “It means mutual regard and affection, and gives off warmth without asking for anything in return. It is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person to exist. It means to hear what is not said, what cannot be seen, and to know what cannot be known.”
“In Hawaii, you will always hear us say, 'Family, family, family,'” Makaneole. “We all have our families, and at the end of the day we all go back to our families. It makes you forget the rest of your day.”
With the technology that is available today, deployed soldiers are able to connect with family and friends at home. They can share stories and open presents together. Rather than being sad for what they are missing, the 44 soldiers from Hawaii took the opportunity to have fun, spread some laughter, and eat some really good food.
Starting Christmas Eve, the Soldiers cooked roast kalua pig, chicken, briskets and lomi salmon. Throughout Christmas morning, they ate together and shared stories from home. They played their own reindeer games, and opened presents. Keeping the spirits light and merry is what Christmas is all about.
“The best part, is always watching kids, any kids, open their presents,” said Lum Ho.
A lot of people head out to the beach for some surfing in the morning. Some watch football games, some travel all over the island visiting friends and neighbors.
Sometimes, the people of Hilo, Hawaii, drive up to the mountains and fill the backs of their trucks with snow, and bring it back to their homes where they build snowmen, said Lum Ho.
They don’t last long, but that’s not the point. They surf instead of sled, and the hang-loose atmosphere fills their hearts as they spend the holiday with their families and friends. Cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles gather around to feed on turkey, pig, fish, and all the other fixings that go into the Hawaiian traditional meal.
Hawaiian food reflects the many countries that have influenced the islands over the years. Because of that, Hawaiian “traditional food” has Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino and German elements to it.
But despite all the foreign influences, one thing remains the same.
“Like everywhere else, we always eat too much food,” said Makaneole. “There is never too much friends and family, but we always eat too much food.”
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This work, The gift of Aloha, by SSG Angela Parady, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.