Christmas at Sea

This was a column I wrote for the opinion page of the Morganton News Herald in North Carolina.

Marines and Sailors aboard the USS Nassau are thinking of home as they tear open their mail and munch on overdone or undercooked burgers.  It’s a Merry Christmas at sea for these men and women serving their country half way around the world.

Work never stops aboard the ship, but there are pauses.  The men and women are taking showers, reading Christmas cards, and taping new pictures of loved ones up by their beds.  They just finished an exercise in Kenya and so they are still trying to get the grime and dust off of their boots and packs, but since the holidays are finally here, a few wreaths and trees are magically appearing around the ship too.

It doesn’t look like the servicemembers get to visit a liberty port for the holiday, so they are instead treated to a steel beach picnic while bobbing around the ocean.  Grills and coolers are hauled to the flight deck and the men and women feast on the typical cookout fare, albeit mass-produced.  There are even sporting events and a talent show.  I’ll leave it to your imagination to come up with what kind of talents our “jarheads” and “squids” might have.

Flipping burgers for literally thousands of troops is hard work.  Unfortunately, that means that the burgers are rarely ever done to perfection.  The Marines and Sailors don’t complain, though.  It’s a much-appreciated change of pace.  The Christmas spirit is very much alive, even without relatives to celebrate with.  Camaraderie and brotherhood fostered by military tradition goes a long way towards helping overcome the depression naturally felt when away from home this time of year.  All servicemembers are truly concerned for their fellow Marines and Sailors, even those they might not get along with personally.  It’s a unique atmosphere unlike any I’ve ever experienced outside of the military.  If you have a loved one serving abroad this holiday season, you don’t need to worry; he or she is being taken care of.

“We think of you often and you are truly the key to the success of our mission,” said Col. Richard Mills, 24th MEU’s commanding officer in his holiday message to the families back home. “Keep those letters, e-mail messages, and care packages coming! Mail Call truly boosts our morale.

“Christmas plays a special part in all our family traditions. Although we are miles apart, our loved ones, family, and friends are close to us in our hearts. Keep the home fires burning.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”

Our men and women in the military are not the only ones on duty, though.  Police officers are patrolling our streets while firefighters stand by for any emergencies that might spring up. Folks at the various phone companies are making sure your calls to distant loved ones go through.  People are standing duty at the electric company to make sure you get an uninterrupted flow of electric juice for your holiday lights.  Some of these folks might get a little extra in their paychecks for working today, but that hardly makes up for being away from family.  Unless, of course, working today is a result of purposely avoiding an annoying uncle or bratty nephew.  In that case, the holiday sacrifice might be worth it.

I’ve spent many holidays away from home, and so I don’t mind running to the store a zillion times for forgotten grocery items all that much any more.  It’s amazing the things you miss when you’re stuck at work on a holiday.

My heart-felt salute goes out to all men and women working today.  I understand what you are going through and I appreciate your hard work.  Merry Christmas to you!