Reflecting on the holidays from Afghanistan

Published 10:27 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2013

By Ed Holland

Editor’s note: We asked SFC Ed Holland, a Suffolk native, to write something about spending the holidays with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He put together the following thoughts during a period of a couple of weeks surrounding Christmas and emailed it to us Dec. 30. We thought readers would still be interested, even though the holidays are past.

Christmas to a soldier means a lot. It means gift giving, office parties, decorations, long lines in all stores, turkey with all the trimmings and family.

Email newsletter signup

But this year it takes on a different meaning. Christmas 2012 will be spent in Afghanistan with temperatures in the low 30’s during the day and in the low teens at night. We will be at our guard posts, weapons ready. But as we stand guard and watch our posts, we think about our children, spouses, and family, hoping they are enjoying themselves and everyone is safe and sound.

There are plenty of reminders of the holiday, even here: The battery executive officer, whose Christmas lights in his office call into question his decorating prowess. The battery first sergeant has a stocking affixed to his door that is labeled 1SG, as if we don’t know who he is. He also has a blue tree with his favorite team ornaments (Go Tar Heels.) My commander has a stocking, also, labeled BC Battery Commander. In my office, you will hear festive music ranging from the Temptations to Mariah Carey. Sometimes you may hear me singing along.

Our command team works on the meal plan for this special day. This dinner is special. It will be shared by men and women who are away from their loved ones. But we brothers in arms have a new family, our fellow soldiers and our battery.

In my particular living area, my battle buddy ordered a Charlie Brown tree, the one with the one red ball and the under-developed branches. This tree is a reminder of the unity, dedication and loyalty we have amongst our unit. We are a small bunch, but we are united in our purpose and dedication.

Christmas here will start as any other day. Wake up, shower, shave and check on the steadfast soldiers that provide security as we sleep. Share a few laughs and ensure all is well. We then will go to the dining facility and eat breakfast. Our meals are prepared by some of the finest cooks in the country. We talk about who won the basketball and football games and debate the NFL playoffs.

Upon arriving in the base defense operations center, I check to see if anything happened overnight. I will get briefed and check emails. As my morning continues, I am missing something. Ah, my soldier didn’t heat up water so I can have my hot chocolate. “Sergeant, you can’t heat water?” he’ll ask. We share a laugh as I prepare the pot.

My LT is a very special guy. Full of energy, helpfulness, and he has a story for every occasion. He’s from east Tennessee, a mountain man if I have ever seen one. We will go around our Forward Operating Base and talk with the tenants and ensure all is well.

My commander will do his morning rituals — conference call, conference call, conference call. But today is a little different. He is preparing to brief a one-star general. He will rehearse until it is muscle memory. He is very meticulous in all he does — basically, a worry wart. But my first sergeant is cool as the other side of the pillow. He reassures the battery commander: “Sir, just say it and let it ride.” The BC flashes that grin.

It’s the norm for us here. Briefings, patrols and all.

The holidays are in the forefront of our minds. But we know as soldiers, defenders of our nation and brothers in arms our mission here is never-ending. We have to protect each other, our families and our nation. Think of it as a working Christmas.

We do our jobs so our Nation can enjoy this day. So as you are sitting down enjoying friends, family and a feast with all the trimmings, take time out to remember my soldiers, my unit and our sacrifices. And in your prayers, just ask that the soldiers of Lightning Battery are safe and in God’s hands.

Merry Christmas.

Sgt. First Class Ed Holland, a 1989 graduate of Suffolk High School, has been in the U.S. Army for 18 years. He is on his sixth deployment, including five to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.