An Open Christmas Letter From a Deployed Service Member

This post is part of a series from Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah chronicling their mission in Afghanistan. The posts are written by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup, Public Affairs Officer, Provincial Reconstruction Team, Farah.

The holiday season is a great time of year.  Most, if not all of us, can remember at least one year that Santa brought us the toy we wanted and quality time spent with loved ones around a Christmas tree.  It is a time to celebrate loved ones who made our season bright, remember those who are no longer with us, and make new memories to carry us through the new year.

A homemade Christmas tree made by one of his sons hangs U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup's door in Farah province Afghanistan, Dec. 20, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup

A homemade Christmas tree made by one of his sons hangs U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup’s door in Farah province Afghanistan, Dec. 20, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup

Thousands of deployed U.S. service members, like me, spend the holidays away from home each year.  And despite how tough it can be for us and our families, we all do our very best to make it an enjoyable time for ourselves and our teammates.

We send holiday cards home (when there is time to write), put up pictures of loved ones, hang hand-drawn pictures and Christmas trees our kids sent us (thanks, sweetheart!), and we eat treats that come in our care packages.  We also decorate doors, plan Christmas cookouts, light Christmas trees and spend time sharing family stories with old and new friends alike.

Some of us have unique opportunities to share traditions with coalition partners, too.  This year, our team at Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah will have an opportunity to celebrate the season with Italian and Slovenian brothers and sisters-in-arms.  We’ll eat seasonal and traditional food, share holiday treats, drink espresso and probably even play a little soccer.  We’ll have the best of three distinct and festive Christmastime worlds.

Service members assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah unload care packages and Christmas gifts during mail call on Forward Operating Base Farah, Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup

Service members assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah unload care packages and Christmas gifts during mail call on Forward Operating Base Farah, Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup

Here on Forward Operating Base Farah, we receive quite a few packages during mail call, especially during the holidays.  I’ve personally received packages from people I don’t know.  Regardless of who the sender is, I very much appreciate the thought, time, effort and resources that go into putting the packages together.

Speaking of care packages, this reminds me of my favorite holiday story from 2012. Lt. j.g. Laura Cook, our team’s physician assistant and a good friend of mine, sent a note home earlier this fall over Veteran’s Day weekend.

She wanted to tell family and friends what she did here in Farah, and how things were going a month into deployment.  She didn’t receive many immediate messages in response to her note, which had her feeling bummed out.  Little did she know that her note was causing more of a stir back home than she thought……

Once they received her email, Laura’s family and friends continued to share her note with other people they knew. Eventually, her email ended up on Lauren Ritchie’s desk at the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.  Lauren reached out to Laura to talk about her experiences here with Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah. Following their phone interview, Lauren wrote a brief article on Lt. j.g. Cook in the Lake County edition of the Sentinel.

Photo: PRT Farah's mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah Province Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/released)

PRT Farah’s mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah Province Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/released)

And then it happened.  A flood of letters and care packages began to arrive for Lt. j.g. Cook.  Since Lauren’s article was published, Lt. j.g. Cook  has received over 70 letters and 85 care packages from people she’d never met.

The support has been so tremendous that just the other day, Lt. j.g. Cook  and her friends set up tables in an empty CONEX box so that our security force team could go through and select items that they wanted.  The boxes are still coming in, with a few more in transit.

Lt. j.g. Cook  shared some of the letters with me and her favorite is a note from a 79-year-old couple.  They told her that they were feeling “crabby” about making a difficult move to a new home, but after reading Lauren’s article they decided they were being wimpy and put together a box of Christmas cheer for us – before unloading 79 years’ worth of memories into their new home.  To top it all off, they promised Lt. j.g. Cook that they wouldn’t feel sorry for themselves anymore.

So, why am I sharing this?  It certainly isn’t a petition for more care packages.  Simply, it’s my gift to you. It’s a reminder that despite all of the tragedy we see throughout the world – from Afghanistan to the United States and many countries in between – good things are continuing to happen in spite of it all.

Lt. j.g. Cooks’ story is proof that there are good people in our global community who genuinely care for others.  And while a few care packages might not fix the world’s problems, the thought, care and concern for another human being, someone you don’t even know, is a staggering reminder of how we all should act year round.

My friends and I, despite being a small piece of a very big puzzle, are happy to be here in Farah serving you this Christmas season.  Sure we’d rather be home, having holiday fun with loved ones, but we’ve been asked to do a job and we’re here to do it with honor and pride.

As we pause to take a short break this holiday, we tip our caps to the people at home who help our families while we’re deployed and to our loved ones who remind us that we’re loved and we’re missed.  Thank you very much for your continued support in both big and small ways.  You are very much appreciated.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Photo: PRT Farah's mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah Province Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/released)

PRT Farah’s mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah Province Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/released)

Edited by Erin Wittkop, DoDLive

 

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  • Tiffiny Lilley

    It is a letter like this, that reminds me that my time spent with FLAGS Across the Nation, sending children’s art, letters to the troops and hand made pillow cases overseas has been worth every minute. Thank you for standing up for America. With love, Tiffiny