Thanksgiving morning I appeared with the hosts of "Fox & Friends." The gang was worried about how our soldiers were reacting to being in a combat zone for the holidays. Recall that in addition to all the normal nastiness of Iraq, the Fallujah battle was still far from complete. American Marines and soldiers were taking casualties, and the scenes of house-to-house fighting were especially bitter. "How do soldiers react in such conditions?" the hosts asked. "Do they get depressed? Lose their focus? Become less effective?"
Now, a few weeks later we are about to celebrate the most meaningful and emotional holiday: Christmas. On top of a Thanksgiving away from home, how will the troops likely react to Christmas made even worse by bombs, rockets, and mortars; a Christmas not of decorated trees and jingling bells, but suicide cars bombers and IEDs; a Christmas perhaps even more stressful for our Reserve and National Guard forces who might be expected to be less prepared mentally for the abrupt absence from hearth and home. These are all good points to explore.
One obvious thing about holidays is that they are anticipated. Anyone with a calendar knows what’s coming and can prepare for it mentally. Troops know that this season is one in which home, family, and peace are celebrated, indeed cherished. Likewise they realize – more acutely than many of their civilian counterparts – how precious those things can be. The troops also are aware that their actions and sacrifice means that more Americans will be able to enjoy the special moments that they willingly have given up.
Troops know that even if gratitude is in short supply from some Americans, they are willing to make the sacrifice nonetheless. But we want them to know that for the majority of Americans we are deeply grateful and proud of them. For that reason, among many others, it is incumbent upon us not in a combat zone to make certain that we express our thanks for those who are in harm’s way. There are many ways that this can be done. Some organizations, like the Special Forces Association, encourage you to send phone cards to military hospitals. One hospital we know with lots of wounded patients has run out of phone cards. Send them to Tripler Army Medical Center, PAO, ATTN.: MCHK-IO, 1 Jarrett White Road, Honolulu, HI 96859. They will be a great Christmas present to the recuperating wounded soldiers there.
Other organizations, like the Scott Vallely Memorial Fund, send personal packages to the troops. These shoebox-sized kits include many of the items the troops like but find hard to get, such as insect repellent, power, soap, personal grooming items, paperback books, and many other things that are tough to procure in the field. Organizations like the Warrior Foundation and Freedom Alliance specialize in assisting widows and orphans of soldiers lost in combat. These organizations try to assist in widows finding employment, offer scholarships for children, and help with many other aspects of painful readjustment. Another organization worthy of note and eminently deserving of our support is the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps wounded soldiers. Even the most severely wounded soldiers – those with loss of vision, hearing, limbs, or mobility – are given all assistance possible to help cope with a traumatic situation. A donation to any of these groups is a tangible way of expressing your gratitude.
These listings are just a sampling of those praiseworthy groups striving to help our troops. And we can help at any time, not just during the holidays. Recall that many of these troops get their news sporadically from the mainstream media, and as a consequence, they hear only negative reports about their behavior and accomplishments. Many of them don’t realize how much we think about them and how appreciative we are for their efforts. For those risking their lives on a daily basis, a pat on the back from a grateful America can only help. What more do they need to do to win our support and gratitude? Send a note or an e-mail to those in harm’s way. Tell them how proud you are of them.
A cautionary note: we want to help the troops – while they are deployed and when they return – but don’t under any circumstances feel sorry for them. Pity is not an admirable virtue either given or received. The last thing – absolutely the last thing – these troops want is our pity. They are well trained, highly motivated, and cognizant of their mission. They are aware of what great things they have already accomplished, and more than anything they are tough – mentally and physically. They want respect and deserve no less than all we can give them. They are the greatest generation of military we have ever put into the field.
This holiday season you have the opportunity to reach out beyond your immediate circle of friends and family to a family you may not realize you even have: America’s military family. They are dependent upon us for support; we are totally dependent on them for our security, safety, and way of life. Help soldiers this Christmas. You’ll feel better for it, and so will they.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Consider giving a signed copy of Gordon’s exciting book, Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, to those on your gift list. You’ll find instructions on his website.