Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Long Year and a Long December

“…and it’s a long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” – Counting Crows

So how do you define a good year? Is it a span of time marked by moments of happiness, notable achievements, and successes? Do the days punctuated by laughter have to outweigh those stained with tears, or is it a cumulative effect of how we recollect our overall experience of the preceding months as the church bells fade from midnight mass on Christmas Eve?

Sliding into December, it would be easy to look back and say this has been a bad year. By the time the ball drops in Times Square and people are kissing and singing Auld Lang Syne, I will have been apart from my wife for 349 days of 2005. That in itself is enough for 2005 to merit the moniker of “Bad Year” in my book.

During this time, Pam has had to deal with moving for the 5th time in as many years and 2 more moves to look forward to over the next year. She has had to deal with her own personal version of “Pacific Heights” tenants in our house, shady land managers, shoddy contractors, disrespectful and difficult Tri-Care and hospital employees, hospitalizations, and surgeries.

During this same time, aside from the normal trials and tribulations of military duty, I have traveled through 14 countries on 3 continents, trained in the snow, endured the stifling desert heat, experienced thunderstorms of biblical proportions, and witnessed brutal and indiscriminate devastation wrought by both man and nature.

And yet, there have been moments of spontaneous joy along with heartfelt outpourings of love and kindness, the nature of which can only be born out of tribulation. Coinciding with the heart-rending tragedy that continues to permeate this region of the world where so much of my past year has been spent, were extraordinary moments of compassion and kindness; spontaneous and heartfelt demonstrations of caring and generosity and overwhelming occasions of camaraderie and sharing.

How then do we weigh these blessings against the magnitude of heartache, loneliness, and sorrow of being separated from family, or can we? I think now, that even though they all must be taken as pieces that create the whole, one cannot be weighed against the other. They are of different genres and should not even be competing on the same field for my emotions. While we have to accept all the challenges that life brings us, they are only things to be endured, things which add contrast and texture to the moments we cherish in life.

As the end of this year approaches, I find myself separated from my wife and family by half a world. While all the reasons that I find myself desert purgatory are just as valid as they ever were, there are days when I just don’t care, days when I just miss my wife and when I yearn for home. During these times, Pam and I will commiserate with each other through our hardships. We will put aside all the noble and honorable reasons for our tribulations and allow ourselves a short time of self-pity because duty and honor aside, being apart from your loved ones through this time of giving and sharing just plain sucks.

Tomorrow though, the world will seem just a little brighter as we wake up one day closer to being together again. Our contributions and sacrifices will mean just a little bit more as this fledgling bastion of freedom progresses that much further through its infancy and we will see if we can find just a little more strength and perseverance from some untapped reserve to help push us through the final stretch. So while it has been both a long year and a long December, with the end of our mission right around the corner, there is reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.

Sorry About the Hiatus

Sorry about the sporadic postings recently.  Not only did we find ourselvels in a bit of an operational lull when there just wasn't that much to write about, I managed to procure a 4 day R&R pass to Qatar.  For 96 wonderful hours, Craig and I were able to bask in the sun, take a dip in the Persian Gulf, visit western style malls with American Fast Food franchises and of course imbibe in limited amounts of alcoholic beverages.  The just as quickly as it came, we find ourselves back in Metropolis scraping frost from windshields again.  Funny how the Air Force never cancels return flights from places like this.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A couple of items here about the Christmas season.
First, if you have a problem with me calling it the Christmas season rather than the "Winter Holidays", the "Happy Holiday Season", the "Non-Religiously Affiliated Season of Giving", or some other sort of nonsense, then you're probably reading the wrong website. It's Christmas folks. It's a religous holiday. If you don't believe that, don't celebrate it. Ooooh, by the way, I'm writing this on a government computer. I hope that doesn't violate the separation of church and state. I'd better make sure I get the Chaplain to look at it first. You remember the chaplain right? A soldier of God whose earthly salary is paid by the U.S. Government. Church and state in the same uniform. Hmmm? Well, enough of that. In God We Trust, and Merry Christmas.

Second, I have had more than a few conversations/emails from people asking what they can send in packages for the soldiers. Folks, I can't tell you how much we appreciate the giving and sharing. The small momentos of support go so far in boosting the morale of the troops during this particularly stressful time. The difficulty here is that for the people I'm associated with, our time remaining here on the ground is short and in over the next few weeks we're going to try to reduce the amount of things that we have to carry out of here by shipping it out early.

Since giving is the most important thing during this season and your well-wishes, thoughts and prayers are the most important thing to us right now, here's the best thing that I can think of:
Visit Soldiers' Angels and select from any one of the operations that they have listed there to contribute to. They are all fantastic programs that go directly to helping soldiers and families who need it most. Then just drop us a card with your well wishes, thoughts and prayers and letting us know that you have given in our honor to help our comrades who need it most. cards can be sent to:

Any JLC Soldier
c/o Claude Crisp
APO, AE 09354

Finally, I want to share this poem that somone forwarded to me. I normally shy away from forwards, but this captures very well, the spirit of the CHRISTMAS season from my perspective this year.

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
my daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a Winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
andI crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light.
Then he sighed and he said, "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."

"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers.
"My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.

"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.

I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother.
Who stand at the front! against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?"

It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.

To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.

Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.

Thank You all for your continued prayers and support. To really make this holiday season better for us though, find a family member whose loved ones are deployed and share your appreciation with them. We've been through a lot here, but we have been through it with each other and we will lan on each other the rest of the way. Our families don't always have this, and for people to share their thoughts and prayers with them is priceless.