Not a Soldier’s Christmas

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith
  • U.S. Air Force HQ Kosovo Force
He couldn't have been a day over 20. His face was covered with the dirt of battle, yet was cleanly shaven; that is, if he even had to shave. He had the Army standard headgear and uniform, but both had seen some wear over the past few months. He was wet and freezing cold, and he knew his mission this night was just getting underway. Although he was surrounded by others just like himself, he wasn't actually there in his mind.

Tonight, like every night, he was prepared to die if it was God's will to bring him home. He prayed in silence, "God, give me strength in this battle. Let my family not worry about my well being tonight, but let them celebrate this joyous day together as in years past. Keep my siblings physically and spiritually healthy so that they may grow up to understand why I left them. I ask in your Son's name. Amen"

"Are you awake?" his younger brother Joseph whispered quiet enough so mom and dad wouldn't hear. "No," he replied. "I'm sleeping. Go back to sleep or you'll get us in trouble." "How can I sleep this night? All I can think about is the huge feast we'll have and all of the people who will come to visit us and the sweets and candies we will get." "You'll get nothing but a stern talking to if you don't go back to sleep," he answered. "Tomorrow is Christmas, and you staying awake tonight will not make it come any faster. Now try to go to sleep before you wake everyone up."

Not more than three or four years prior, he felt the same as Joseph. There is something magical about the excitement of a child trying to sleep on Christmas Eve. Tonight, all across America, children are anxiously staring at their clocks wondering why it takes so long for the digital display to turn from 3:01 a.m. to 3:02 a.m. Most are wondering if Santa Claus was able to bring them the latest, must-have toy of the year. Some less-fortunate children are hoping for any toy and are holding onto a small thread of innocence that will quickly disappear as they become jaded by their circumstances. And there are some children whose hearts ache because they don't know why their brother or sister or mother or father won't be with them to open presents and go to Church. Their only knowledge of "freedom" is the security and guidance their loved ones give them while they are together as a family. But this battle takes place in a different time.

"Prepare for landing!" shouted the sergeant, which abruptly ended his dreams of a Christmas Eve long ago. "From here, the general will lead our march."

The snow was falling harder, and the darkness peaked. He couldn't even feel his feet, but that didn't matter because he had to face a long and painful march before the fighting would even begin. God had heard his prayer and granted his wish to stay alive this Christmas. It was now Dec. 26.

On that Christmas night in 1776, General George Washington led his troops across the Delaware River. The ice and snow made crossing the river almost impossible. Once the soldiers did get across, they had to march to Trenton, N.J., where the battle took place. Historians say the men were poorly clothed, and many of them didn't even have shoes. Traces of blood from soldiers' feet were left behind in the snow during the nine-mile march into battle.

The battle started at 8 a.m. on Dec. 26 and the fighting was over by 9 a.m. The Hessians and British lost between 20 and 30 men and had almost 1,000 captured. Two American officers were killed and two or three privates were fatally wounded. Some sources say that three or four privates also froze to death during the mission. The sacrifice was worth it for the future of freedom because the victory is said to have changed the entire course of the Revolutionary War. The brave actions of these American troops changed the direction of the world from that point forward.

Before the battle, he realized that Christmas wasn't a Soldier's to own. He suffered through one in hopes that his family and countrymen would be able to hold the day as they see fit for years to come. Still, Joseph fought to hold in his tears each Christmas after. Before celebrating their freedom to have a meal with loved ones, the family gathered to read the letter they received just after Christmas of 1776: "It is with great regret and remorse that I inform you..."

This Christmas, hundreds of thousands of troops are deployed, and some are in harm's way. Freedom isn't easy to explain to the youngest patriots, especially on Christmas. There is no way to sit down with an unborn baby and tell her that she won't have a daddy because of something called freedom. Speaking of democracy won't fill the void a five-year-old boy will have in his soul for the rest of his life because he will never see his mommy again. His big brother's posthumously-awarded medal won't provide a positive role model to the pre-teen who idolized his lost influence.

Christmas really has nothing to do with the military. Today's Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines accept their sacrifice just as the brave men under General Washington did. Today's military members who are away for Christmas want the focus on their loved ones who are left behind.

On this Christmas of 2007, pray for the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and others who don't know where their loved one is, let alone if a good meal or Christmas tree is available. Think of the lonely spouse who has to handle all the pressures of the holidays while wondering if her husband will survive the day. Worry about the kids who think their mother or father went away because he or she doesn't want to spend Christmas with the children.

American military members don't worry about their own well being during Christmas. The Soldiers don't need sympathy, and they don't need people calling for their return before the mission is complete. What they do need is to know that their families at home are taken care of while they can't be there.