GUEST COLUMN: Warm season’s greetings from the Iraqi desert

By Capt. Matt Lawson

Spending the holidays away from home is something that no one looks forward to, and being in Iraq is no different. Being part of a unit is something like being part of a family, which helps, but I think everyone wishes they were at home gathered around a the holiday table.

Still, on Thanksgiving we made do. The pace of work was a little slower that day, and everyone relaxed just a bit. Helicopters still flew and the guard towers still needed guards though. I can’t describe to you how it feels to be in a lonely tower when you know your family back home is preparing to feast.

That’s not to say we didn’t feast here in Iraq. The Dining Facility (DFAC) always does its best on holidays to make the meal a little special. For Thanksgiving there were extended hours so that everyone would be able to enjoy their meal. It’s a good thing the hours were extended, because most soldiers waited 15-20 minutes to get in the building. Once they entered though, each line had all of the traditional Thanksgiving fare. Ham, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and vegetables were all available.

There are some subtle differences between an American Thanksgiving and an Iraqi one though. First off, I suspect most people in America did not celebrate with plastic utensils and plates. And I hope most of you did not have soggy stuffing. Finally, watching football isn’t much of a tradition here, since the games normally do not start until 9 p.m. Iraq time. In fact the final Thanksgiving Day football game didn’t finish until I was eating breakfast the next morning.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the holidays here. Some people take the day off, just relaxing in their trailers or offices. I tend to do more work, so that I don’t have to focus on the fact that it is a holiday back home. And in what is getting to become a Thanksgiving tradition for me, I e-mail pictures to my family of my meal, and they send family pictures back to me.

The holiday time frame means that we tend to get more packages, both from our families and from strangers who send packages to any of the multiple “any-soldier” programs.

Most packages contain candy, movies and books but the other day Sergeant Sean “Grimlock” Crist received a package that contained the unexpected, candy and Garnier Fructis Smoothing Milk. I’m sure some of you know what this product is for, but the war on terror ground to a halt as nine hardened combat veterans debated its use for at least 10 minutes. We then looked at the directions and saw that it was a hair product. According to the label you can use it to get the “Smooth Operator” look, but I think we’ll just be taking their word for it.

Christmas is also rapidly approaching. We do little things to get into the spirit of the holiday hanging small decorations and Christmas trees from home. My soldiers are also doing their holiday shopping. Having the Internet available means many of them will be able to send gifts home, which makes the holidays a little better for their families in the U.S. There isn’t much here that we could send home as gifts.

Of course the mission never stops. Our helicopters keep on flying everyday; that didn’t stop on Thanksgiving and it won’t stop on Christmas. We’ve been flying a lot of hours, but the maintenance company has worked feverishly to make sure there are always enough helicopters available to fly all of our assigned missions.

To sum it up, we’re all looking forward to Christmas. I’m also looking forward to the fact that I have no finals this year. Well, I guess I have one, but it’s pass/fail and I won’t know how I do until mid-August, but it’s looking good so far.

If you would like to send a holiday greeting to Capt. Matthew Lawson and his fellow soldiers, you can contact him at [email protected]