A soldier’s Christmas

Published 11:43 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Staff Sgt. Hollis Johnson, who is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and has served three Christmases overseas, reads “A Soldier’s Night Before Christmas” to the fourth-graders in Michelle Floyd’s class at Kilby Shores Elementary School Wednesday.

Kilby students get a visit from the Army

Staff Sgt. Hollis Johnson knows all too well what it’s like to be away from home during the holidays.

In the past four years, he’s spent three Christmases away from his wife, Megan, and family while serving in Iraq.

On Wednesday, he visited Michelle Floyd’s classroom at Kilby Shores Elementary School to share his experience with fourth graders and read “A Soldier’s Night Before Christmas” for them.

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“We thought it would be a great time to have him come and read, since he’s been gone for three Christmases,” Floyd said.

Floyd, who is Johnson’s sister-in-law, said her class has been focusing on seasonal books since the beginning of the month, and one of the books was about a soldier who comes home for Christmas after World War I.

She said she thought it would be a good experience for them to hear a modern soldier’s story, so she asked Johnson, who is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, to share his story while he is home for the holidays.

“I thought it would be cool,” he said. “I thought it would really tie in to what she’s doing in her class.”

Dressed in his combat fatigues, Johnson sat at the front of the classroom and read the story, which echoes the familiar pattern of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

However, instead of a child hearing Santa Claus, a soldier sees Sgt. McClaus delivering presents for his unit.

In place of toys, the soldiers in the story get phone cards to call home, photos of their loved ones and art done by students in America.

After the story, Johnson answered a multitude of questions from the students.

Many of them asked him to describe different aspects of life in Iraq, some asked about what it’s like to be a soldier, and others asked about being away from home at Christmas.

“For Christmas, we lit a big bonfire — we dug a hole in the sand and collected all the wood we could to light it,” he told them. “And the cooks cooked us as big of a meal as they could.”

Johnson also told them about the care packages his unit occasionally received during the holidays.

“Children, like you, would send us pictures and letters and care packages with little items,” he said. “That stuff was always important to me and my friends.”

Johnson said he wanted to let the students know about the sacrifices soldiers make to ensure their freedoms.

“It’s important for kids to understand why people do what they do — to allow kids to do whatever they want to do and express their freedoms.”