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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas thoughts 2014

Today, I am reminded of the Christmas Eve of 1990. Of course, 3d ACR was already deep in the desert of Saudi Arabia, but several of my troop mates and I were detached on a detail to off-load the new M1A1HA tanks that were coming for The Regiment, and had been living in a warehouse in Dammam (King Abdulaziz port). We'd been there for about a week,  I believe, and since all we were really there for was the off-loading of the new tanks we didn't have much else to do (the ship hadn't arrived yet, so there was really, truly nothing going on). We must have played Spades or Hearts or other card games about a thousand times, trying to keep busy, and of course there was always sweeping and keeping things tidy (this was the Army, after all), but you can only clean things so many times.

By Christmas Eve, the ship with our new tanks had still not yet arrived in port but the 1st Infantry Division had, and they were also sleeping in the warehouse space as they were awaiting their equipment, just as we had when we arrived in-country in late September/early October. It was not always peaches and cream (tankers--particularly Cav tankers--get along with infantry about like lion sires get along with baby male lions, and there were a couple of minor incidents of tankers getting the better of grunts ... which, of course, the grunts couldn't let stand, and that led to a little bit of a fracas), but on Christmas Eve we were all just soldiers a long way from home, and one of the 1st ID chaplains came by and did an impromptu service.

I've always been fascinated by the Christmas eve service. Even as a child, what I remember (and remember liking) best about Christmas was the singing, the lights, the spectacle of the service. It was always quite magical, and the one celebrated by a dozen or so soldiers in a warehouse in Dammam, Saudi Arabia in 1990 was no different. We sang (mostly on-key) some traditional Christmas songs, the chaplain did a couple of readings, and we lit candles and sang some more. Afterward, we went back to our cots and tried to forget that we were 8,000 miles from home--and a million miles from safety--and just reflect on our continued generally good fortune.

The lights. The candles. That's what I recall most vividly about many Christmases. Regardless of your particular religious proclivities, and whether you are a practicing Jew at Hanukkah or a Christian at Christmas or a Hindi at Diwali (yeah, wrong time of year but whatever) or a Pagan at midwinter/Yule--and, even atheist, since the torch of knowledge is still a thing--the lights all mean the same essential thing: Light overpowers dark, and the flame of life gives us hope.

I hope you all have a magnificent holiday season, be it Christmas or otherwise.

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