At Forward Operating Base Gamberi, units from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are bringing in Christmas cheer through decorations and song.
Trimming the Christmas tree while drinking hot cocoa or eggnog, hanging brightly colored lights on the house in the bitter cold, chestnuts roasting over an open fire, mistletoe – the list of Christmas traditions is endless and varies widely from family to family.
While deployed soldiers are unable to participate in their family’s usual yuletide celebrations which can have a detrimental effect on morale - especially for first-time deployers. To counteract this, units try to create Christmas traditions of their own.
At Forward Operating Base Gamberi units from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are bringing in Christmas cheer through decorations and song.
“It’s a smaller tree and it doesn’t rotate,” said Chicago native U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Kawala, a medic with C Medical Company, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, while decorating the small tree set up in the FOB Gamberi aid station as Christmas music played in the background. “It was good for where we’re at. With the space we need for work, it works.”
Although Kawula has deployed previously to Iraq, he was a late-deployer and was able to spend the holidays with friends and family, making this his first Christmas in a combat environment.
During the last few weeks, care packages have poured in at the FOB, containing cards, ornaments, lights, Santa hats and other assorted decorations along with the care and support of their senders. Stockings containing candy, cookies and other tasty snacks have been passed out to the troops, which were then hung around many an office.
More than 75 soldiers coming from various religious faiths were able to participate in a candlelight service on Christmas Eve put on by the brigade unit ministry team.
Those soldiers with hidden musical talents have even been able to showcase their abilities, participating in the Gamberi Rock Holiday Carolers group, organized by Cincinnati native Warrant Officer 1 Chontrelle Sturdivant, the brigade food service technician.
“I know everyone was away from their family and friends, so I wanted to bring some cheer here on FOB Gamberi,” she said. “And I like to sing, so I figured there were a couple of people out there who like to sing, too.”
Sturdivant, who grew up singing in her school and church choirs, and her 15 carolers stood at the entrance of the DFAC for 20 minutes during each of the three hours of Christmas dinner, leading the hungry soldiers in song while they waited in line.
“The audience participated and it really did bring the intent that we had, which was to bring back the holiday spirit,” she said.
Just as Santa Claus travels to each house on Christmas Eve, U.S. Army Col. Bill Benson, the Long Knife brigade commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Menton, the brigade command sergeant major, traveled to each FOB, beginning with the brigade’s soldiers stationed at Bagram Air Field.
From there, they traveled to Camp Julien near Kabul, FOBs Tagab and Naghlu High in Kapisa province, and FOBs Xia Hag and Mehtar Lam in Laghman province.
Each place they visited, they handed out commander’s coins to deserving soldiers identified by company and battalion commands as deserving to be recognized.
While the scope of the trip did not allow for long stays, the Long Knife command team stopped and visited with as many soldiers as they possibly could at each location, taking the time to wish them a merry Christmas or happy holidays.
They even had a few moments to watch some battalion sporting events being held at FOBs Xia Hag and Mehtar Lam.
Both Benson and Menton stressed to their Long Knife soldiers that while they may be away from their families and friends back home, they are with their Army Family.
While they may miss having their ordinary holiday celebrations, they were here making history by helping Afghanistan stand on its own, the way the U.S. was helped during the Revolutionary War, Benson said.
“Not everyone gets to spend Christmas in Afghanistan,” Benson said. “I think that we’re all going to get to a point in our lives and we’re going to look back and say ‘You did something that was extraordinary in your life.’”
Article by Staff Sgt. Jefferson VanWey, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division