If I’m deployed, how will Santa find me?

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When I was a kid, I’d often travel from North Carolina to Georgia to spend Christmas with my grandparents. Although I was eager to arrive so I could eat my weight in freshly baked oatmeal cookies, there was one concern that would inevitably fill me with dread: if I’m not at my official home of record in Santa’s database, how would he know where to deliver presents?

This childish logic seems silly now, but there are still situations where it manifests, namely finding out a deployment falls in line with the holiday season. Instead of worrying how Santa will find you, however, you begin to worry if the joy of the holiday season will find you.

In addition to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, I spent Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s in Southwest Asia on my most recent deployment. Having previously served in the U.S. Navy, this wasn’t my first time away from home during the holidays on account of military obligations, and it certainly won’t be my last. At first, I joined the rest of the disgruntled Service members as we begrudgingly worked our way through the chow line to get our holiday meals, but as my military career has progressed, I’ve begun to appreciate the unique aspect of spending the holidays with my brothers and sisters-in-arms.

For instance, on my most recent deployment, my friends and I were standing in line at chow for Thanksgiving taking in all the holiday decor around the chow hall. There were paper cutouts of turkeys in browns, reds and oranges pasted on the walls above long tables covered in elegant white table cloths featuring pumpkins, apples and other fall-related items. As the line snaked its way up to the buffet where wing leadership served turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and everything else you’d expect at a Thanksgiving meal, we noticed a peculiar item of décor on a small table by the silverware. It was a small dome of ice, about the size of a utility bucket. It didn’t have a shape besides that of the container it was frozen in, so we wondered why it was featured on the table. As we got closer we noticed there appeared to be something in the ice: fillets of fish. We could only assume something was lost in translation with a host country national over a request for an “ice sculpture of fish.”

Besides the unique décor, holidays abroad are a nice break from the norm. Instead of getting caught up in the preparation of everything, who to invite and what to serve, you really get a chance to spend time with friends and coworkers and to reflect on what you’re thankful for or what your aspirations are for the upcoming year. It’s also a good reminder of the camaraderie we all share because of our choice to join the military. I witnessed this brotherhood first hand as U.S. Air Force Airmen and U.S. Army Soldiers worked diligently to box up hundreds of hot meals to send to their brothers and sisters forward deployed to austere locations where they probably hadn’t had a hot meal in a long time. It resembled a scene from a typical holiday meal stateside where a family member might fix a plate for a loved one, asking “Do you think they’d like sweet potato pie or pecan?” The Airmen and Soldiers asked similar questions as they did their best to include everything that might cheer up those on the front lines.

As the holiday season approaches once more, I can’t help but think about those deployed this year as it’s my turn to be home. I hope they enjoy their time out there with their fellow deployers, and know that although this year they may be away from friends and family for the holiday season, they will still make great memories to be cherished in holiday seasons to come.