Life is filled with hills and valleys. When things are going well, and we feel as if we’re on top of the hill, we relish and savor that euphoria like it’s the greatest times in our lives — largely because they are our greatest times. Conversely, when things are going bad, and we feel like we’re alone in a valley, things can get very bad internally.
Sometimes we awake to find ourselves in these valleys because of the loss of a loved one, or financial worries or just plain loneliness. One of my valley moments occured in 1990 — Christmas day, to be exact.
I was in Saudi Arabia with the Marine Corps, and we were only a few short weeks away from the magical deadline of Jan. 15, 1991, that then-President Bush gave Saddam Hussein to withdraw his Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Those were a busy couple weeks, as we continually changed our position to get closer to the border without drawing the attention that one massive move would make. Also, I was a communications person with an infantry unit, so there was a lot of intelligence going back and forth between my unit’s hierarchy and various other units throughout the Corps. It was my job to filter through it, and get the messages relayed to those who needed them.
Sounds pretty boring, huh? It was. But it was pretty safe work, and having heard all the intelligence going back and forth because of my job, I knew what was coming up in a few weeks — and boring safety sounded pretty darn good at that point.
Well, I got duty for that Christmas evening. Basically, I was to sit in a tent with a radio, a computer and some cryptography equipment and relay anything of note to our officer of the day, who also was confined to the same tent as me for that evening. Not a big deal, I figured. It’s not like I was going out that night, and the chance of finding a last-minute date was pretty low — unless anthrax-infected goats were my cup of tea. Let me tell you, after a few months in the desert, a goat, camel or ...
But I digress.
Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a lot of radio chatter going on that evening. Bored out of our minds, the officer of the day and I got into some small talk, and the conversation shifted to Christmas. He was a 24-year-old officer, and I was a 21-year-old enlisted guy, and we both sounded like little kids when discussing those magical Christmas mornings of our youths. The talk shifted to families in general, and what our respective families were probably doing at that very moment to celebrate Christmas and, all of a sudden, the mood turned somber.
We were alone. Yes, we had our brotherhood of Marines there and, yes, we had a lot to concentrate on during that period of time, but we missed our families. The conversation just kind of died down, and we both went into silent coccoons of meditation.
It was dark. I was scared as to what was going to happen in a few weeks, I was missing my family and I was genuinely sitting around feeling sorry for myself. To top it off, I was trapped in a tent with a lieutenant, and anyone who has served in the military as an enlisted person can tell you that’s not a fun situation.
It made me appreciate Christmas at home so much more than before. Oh, I still get somewhat annoyed by the commercialism of the holiday, but I remember inside what it means to be able to be around loved ones during the holidays, and I absolutely treasure Christmas now.
Of course, some have a much, much tougher time right now than me.
I told this story in order to tell another story. I met a great local guy the other day named Ron Erwin, and he lit a fire under me with his new project. Erwin and his wife, Robyn, have teamed with the Marine Corps Family Foundation to send Christmas gifts to those injured service personnel who have returned home and are currently struggling with recovering.
The project, called “Operation Santa at the Hospital,” sends gift albums to injured service people at Balboa, Brooke Army Medical Center and Walter Reed/Bethesda. Those individuals can then select any item from the album as a Christmas present, and they then receive said present. Simple as that.
And, to make it even simpler, the Erwins have taken it a step further. The gift albums run from $25 to $50, but you don’t necessarily have to donate that much if you just can’t swing it right now. The Erwins will collect whatever money they receive, and buy as many albums as they can for the injured troops. If you can buy an album, the Erwins request that you attach a little note to the person receiving it — something like, “Thank you so much for your service and sacrifice. Merry Christmas!”.
It might not sound like much, but it can really put a smile on the face of someone who deserves a smile — particularly this time of year.
If you would like to donate to this cause, contact me at 539-1788 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will then forward your information to the Erwins, and they will handle it from there.
There’s no doubt that the holidays are filled with stress and financial concerns. But sending someone a smile can help us all.