Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas is a Time of Thanksgiving

Master Warrant Officer Charlotte Hawes serves Christmas dinner at the Canadian military-civilian outreach base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
2009 Christmas Dinner in Kandahar, Afghanistan

Thank you to all who serve us from abroad, and cannot be home for Christmas. Article from the Winnipeg Sun

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Outside the mess hall where Canadian troops were tucking in Tuesday to an early Christmas dinner, the only hint of seasonal snow came from the giant inflatable Frosty the Snowman doll standing sentry alongside Santa Claus.

The excitement in the air at Camp Nathan Smith, the Canadian military-civilian outreach base on the edge of Kandahar city, was evident as soldiers first lined up for a precious beer ration, followed by a plate of turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.

“My Christmas is going to be great in Kandahar city,” said Master Warrant Officer Charlotte Hawes.

“I’m with my military family, who is as good as my family at home.”

Soldiers, many sporting Santa hats or reindeer horns, played with party favours while seasonal music blared from a boom box for a Christmas dinner that was, for logistical reasons, scheduled a few days ahead of the holiday.

Some of the soldiers snapped photographs of their comrades in arms and joked about. A bowl of candy canes and Christmas cards added to the festive atmosphere.

Other soldiers, normally assigned to other duties, worked the kitchen, while — in keeping with military tradition — officers served the rank and file.

The cooks sported red chef’s hats, emblazoned with “Christmas Cook.”

Each of the normally bare tables was neatly covered with a tablecloth, along with red placemats and Santa-adorned paper cups.

“Christmas dinner was great,” said Cpl. Joseph Henry as he prepared to head out into the field.

“It was probably the best dinner I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, the top Canadian commander in Kandahar province, stopped by the base to share in the festivities. He declared the meal “fantastic.”

Outside, a group of Afghan workers who would normally have been in the kitchen, lounged on chairs.

“Today is their Christmas day, so they’re very happy,” said one, who was clearly a little fuzzy about the concept of a holiday that’s a mystery to most Afghans.

“When it’s the new day of the year,” he said, “they say it’s Christmas.”

Despite the tug of family and relatives back home, several soldiers said they didn’t mind spending Christmas in Kandahar, where Tuesday’s daytime temperature reached into the low teens under sunny skies.

For others such as Henry, being away from home over the festive season doesn’t come easy.

“It’s rough — I’m newly wed . . . I’d like to be with her,” Henry said. “But I’m here for a good cause, so it’ll pass until next year.”

Later in the evening, the illuminated Frosty and Santa display, along with twinkling lights, created a festive atmosphere in the middle of the base.

The lighting almost didn’t survive concerns about “light discipline” — the practice of keeping bases dark at night to help prevent rocket attacks. The festive decorations were eventually deemed not to pose a risk, and the lights continued to twinkle.

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