The holidays are upon us and for those of us at home this year, please enjoy it.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of birthdays (ironically the same day as Festivus), Christmas and New Years days away from those I love.
When you are downrange, it can seem that the world has forgotten you. There are still locations where a Skype or a Facebook update isn’t as plentiful and even a phone call may not be in the cards. It’s lonely. Frankly, it sucks.
Even if those niceties are available, there is no substitute for being home. But those in this situation knew this was part of the deal when they raised their hand and swore an oath. The reality is what it is and you deal with it when it’s your turn to go.
To be fair, your deployed ‘family’ is in it with you and the DFAC staff will try their best to serve up as good a meal as possible. But still it’s not home.
I’ll share a memory from 18 years ago that re-emphasizes to me each year that even the smallest gestures can mean the most to someone who is serving overseas during the holidays. It comes in the form of an envelope I received from a commander I never met. I never expected anyone to think of me during this time, but a general officer though enough to send this Air Force senior airman a letter:
Dear Airman Sabula, During this holiday season, we are especially thankful to you for the sacrifice you are making far from home. Please know that you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. In spite of the end of the Cold War, the world remains a dangerous place. We must continue to pay a price to ensure our precious freedom. Sometimes that price involves separation from family and friends and serving in remote locations. We have entrusted the best in the world to this task; we are very proud of you. Your gift to us this season is freedom–we are in your debt. On behalf of the men and women in Twentieth Air Force, I extend the deepest gratitude for a tough job, well done. Sincerely, DONALD G. COOK, Major General, USAF
Hundreds of people likely received the same letter all over the world, but to me it simply served as a reminder that service was appreciated, that I was making a difference far from home without the luxuries we as Americans take for granted.
I framed this letter and proudly display it as a reminder to think of others, be a leader when no one is looking and that everyone is important in our mission.
Every one of us knows someone who is or has deployed. Make sure you take a moment to think of them during this time of the year and take the opportunity to remind them that what they’re doing is meaningful and appreciated. It means a lot.