FORT HOOD, Texas – With the holiday season in full swing, my family and I just dug out our old Christmas tree from the garage and finished wrestling with a tangle of lights that resembled a scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”<br /> <br /> For my wife and me, this is a joyous time of year. We always look forward to piling up in my truck with our two young sons and two lazy dogs to make the 12-hour haul to Southeast Missouri to visit family members. For us, there’s nothing quite like spending the holiday season with loved ones in our hometown of Portageville. <br /> <br /> Unfortunately, soldiers many times do not have this luxury.<br /> <br /> According to the Department of Defense, about 9,000 soldiers will deploy to Afghanistan this winter, and thousands will be geographically separated from their families.<br /> <br /> Too often troopers spend the holidays alone, and statistics show this often results in low morale, depression, and in extreme circumstances, even suicide.<br /> <br /> I remember the feeling I had when I was a civilian, and my wife deployed to Iraq during the holiday season of 2006. This was the first and only time I had to experience Thanksgiving and Christmas alone. I was not a happy camper, to say the least, and could have used a pick-me-up from anyone during the 15-month period.<br /> <br /> At the time, I didn’t know about all of the programs that were, and still are, available for service members and their dependents to help combat stress and low morale. Organizations and programs like Military OneSource and Army Community Service, as well as unit ministry and behavioral health teams, are just some of the options available.<br /> <br /> A more personal option is for soldiers to extend an invitation to their battle buddies during the holidays. This can include a simple invitation to dinner at one’s house, or to join one’s family for an outing or holiday party.<br /> <br /> An invite gives troops within a unit, who otherwise may spend this time of year alone, an opportunity to join and partake in activities with their extended military family.<br /> <br /> I would have loved to have been invited to someone’s house during the holiday season I spent separated from my spouse. Anything would have beaten eating Chinese food alone on Thanksgiving, yet this happens all too often across the military.<br /> <br /> In addition to being separated from their families, service members are also susceptible to financial issues that often arise during this gift-giving time of year. <br /> <br /> The American Research Group estimates the average American family will spend $801 on gifts this holiday season. These extra expenditures can put any family in a bind and can send a soldier who lives paycheck-to-paycheck into a financial nightmare.<br /> <br /> Should a financial crisis emerge during the holidays, when soldiers and their families are already cash-strapped, the Army Emergency Relief is an option to assist.<br /> <br /> Nobody wants to see their family go without during this time of year, and this should be no different with our military family.<br /> <br /> I challenge all of you, the next time you see your fellow warfighter saying “Bah Humbug!,” to make a difference and show your comrade you care. <br /> <br /> For more information about available resources, contact Military OneSource at www.militaryonesource.mil, or toll-free at 800-342-9647 or visit the Fort Hood Army Community Service website at http://hoodmwr.com/acs/ or at (254) 287-4ACS. <br /> <br /> To find out more about Army Emergency Relief, contact AER at www.aerhq.org, or toll free at 866-878-6378.