Soldiers worldwide celebrating the holidays
Washington (Army News Service) — Although it's not yet Christmas or New Year's Eve, Soldiers around the globe are already attending parties, visiting with families and friends and some are volunteering their time and donations to help those less fortunate.
Every year Defense Commissary Agency, or DeCA, prepares for the rush of shoppers looking for Christmas and New Year's meal staples, according to Thomas Owens, director of DeCA's Washington, D.C., office.
Food seems to be on many people's minds during the holiday season, especially turkey and ham. So which is the bigger seller?
Turkey, according to Owens, beats out ham this year, with 94,247 frozen or prepackaged turkey sales outnumbering 62,638 hams sold this month as of Dec. 20.
And despite Thanksgiving being over, commissary shoppers are still snapping up cans of cranberry sauce, with 112,623 cans sold this month. Apple cider is still a perennial favorite as well, with 36,058 containers sold this month. But eggnog wins as the favored holiday drink at 57,469 containers sold.
The following is a sampling of holiday events that took place worldwide throughout the Army this month:
Tens of thousands of Soldiers are overseas this holiday season. Some are serving in Afghanistan, including Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), who recently went on a dismounted patrol in Nangarhar province.
"It's great, as an infantryman, to be able to get out there and still interact with people, still be able to go do our job," said Staff Sgt. Curtis Perry, platoon sergeant with 3rd Platoon, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
Some of the younger Soldiers said the ability to still see and experience this aspect of operations will pay dividends far beyond the intelligence gained from the mission itself.
"This is my first deployment," said Spc. Brock Barry, a grenadier with 3rd Platoon. "It's nice to have those skills, where I've actually gone out and conducted dismounted patrols. I'm getting skills gained from doing actual missions in an operational environment that I can then teach. It's nice to have that experience."
Meanwhile 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Soldiers at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, got a morale booster when members of their own division's rock band, "Cover Down," performed classic rock and country music hits.
Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, has a unique holiday tradition. Each December, the garrison commander reads seasonal classics to children at the garrison's library; classics like ''T'was the Night Before Christmas."
Yongsan Library volunteer Michelle Keier, in charge of the pre-school story hour, said that the children and their parents who attended seemed pleased with the event.
"We love visits like this," Keier said. "It is a huge benefit for the Army community to see their garrison commander getting out and interacting with them. It lets people know that their commander is a very approachable man. Also, the most important thing is that the kids liked what happened today. They were all excited to hear the story."
Bodo, a 10-year-old German shepherd, is one lucky dog to be alive for the holidays
As a military working dog assigned to the Army, he saw combat once in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq.
While stateside, Bodo spent countless hours training in patrolling and detection techniques to prepare to keep Soldiers safe overseas and at home. He also completed several missions with the Secret Service and the CIA to ensure the safety of the nation's highest ranking leaders.
Before 2000, military working dogs often were euthanized after retirement -- Bodo is now retired. That year, President Clinton signed Robbie's Law, which allows military working dogs to be placed for adoption.
Bodo's new family, 1st Lt. Patrick Hartzel, executive officer of A Battery, 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and his wife, took Bodo into their home and they say he's adjusting well to his new life and they are all having a good time this holiday season.
Soldiers of the 404th Army Field Support Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., are bringing Christmas joy to children as part of the Santa's Castle program.
Since 1994, volunteers in the program have been providing Christmas presents to children of armed forces members who are experiencing financial difficulty.
Last year, Santa's Castle provided gifts to 1,866 children from nearly 837 families and organizers are expecting a similar number of gifts this year.
Personnel from U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach held a tree-lighting ceremony at nearby Bismarck Kaserne, Germany.
The event included a visit by Santa, a choir performance, recognition of two outstanding families of the USAG Ansbach community and the lighting of the tree.
After the event, the crowd moved to the Von Steuben Community Center where children got an chance to talk to Santa Claus and community members listened to the Ansbach High School band, ate holiday snacks and socialized.
Although Fort Rucker, Ala., might not see a white Christmas, it's beginning a lot to look like Christmas there, with the post's tree lit up, Winter Wonderland Skate Night at the Fort Rucker gymnasium, a breakfast with Santa, a Christmas craft-making activity at post library and the garrison commander's holiday concert.
The craft-making activity was making foam gingerbread houses.
Mindful of being Army Strong and shedding pounds gained from holiday food, the post's athletic center held 5-K and 1-mile fun runs, open to the children as well as adults.
"This was a good family holiday event -- something that can turn into a family tradition," said Lynn Avila, fitness programs coordinator. "It can be a great way to make memories, burn fat and get rid of extra holiday pounds so people can stay on their fitness routine."
Some holiday golf tournaments were also held at the snow-free Silver Wings Golf Course, where the top winners each received a ham.
Soldiers of The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and U.S. Army Drill Team visited the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where they performed and mingled with the children.
Soldiers of the Military District of Washington retention team, volunteered to prepare dinner at the Eleanor U. Kennedy shelter for the homeless in Fort Belvoir, Va.
An evening meal of spaghetti, salad and pumpkin pie was whipped together and the halls of the 50-bed shelter's dining room were decorated by career counselors from Fort Belvoir, Fort Meade, Md., and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.
The meal and decoration preparation was organized by Military District of Washington career counselor.
"Volunteering is actually a passion of mine," said Sgt. 1st Class Samira Abdullah. "I think it is a way to reflect on others, and giving back especially during the holiday season. I think that giving some time to help your community is an ultimate, grateful act."
The Kennedy shelter is part of New Hope Housing, which oversees a string of facilities throughout northern Virginia to assist homeless men, women and children. Groups like the retention team volunteer throughout the month to prepare suppers and dinners.
"This is a tremendous help," said New Hope Housing's Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Chris Bramante. "As you can imagine, if you're preparing meals for 50 to 100 people, it is a tremendous expense. But when a group comes in and prepares a hot meal, it is fantastic."
Gold Star family members participated in the Snowball Express, an all-expenses-paid charter flight to Dallas for more than 1,800 children and spouses of fallen U.S. military service members who lost their loved one since Sept. 11, 2001. They had a few days of fun and friendship in the Big D.
"American Airlines took 10 planes out of service Dec. 12, to fly around the country to pick up families for Snowball Express," said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ray Blust, a pilot for American Airlines. Blust had volunteered to fly today for the program but there was a long list of others who also wanted to volunteer. "So I came up to support this," said Blust. "This is a great opportunity."
"It is very healing," said Marilyn Adams, of her 12-year-old son Daniel. "Since there is not a really big military presence near Wexford, Pa., he tells me he feels alone; he's the only one that this happened to but when he gets in that room of 3,000 families, he's just excited."
She added that Daniel has found that through these trips there are others who have been through the same thing and can relate to him. Adams and her son have been to several of the trips in the past years.
The eighth annual event, held Dec. 12-16, marks the fifth time Snowball Express has visited Texas. This year features a "Wizard of Oz" themed gate decorations, including a yellow brick road through the airport, Munchkin Land and a field of poppies; the red carpet treatment to the movie "Frozen" at LOOK Cinema along with unlimited games and entertainment; a "Walk of Gratitude" parade where families will receive a VIP welcome by Fort Worth by city officials; a day at the zoo, including a private concert by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band; and the rock star treatment at the Texas Music Project and Talent Experience in the historic House of Blues followed by a grand finale show produced by David Hira Productions.
Editor's note: The following Army public affairs personnel contributed to this article: Sgt. Eric Provost, 10th Mountain Division, Afghanistan; Cpl. Jung Jihoon, Yongsan Garrison, South Korea; 1st Lt. John Atkins, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.; Greg Alderete , 404th Army Field Support Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Bryan Gatchell, U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach, Germany; Sara E. Martin, Fort Rucker, Ala.; Jim Dresbach, Fort Belvoir, Va.; Lt. Col. Benjamin Garrett, Fort Stewart, Ga.; Spc. Sophia Klevemann, Fort Stewart.