Getting a pre-mission brief before flying a night mission.

Please take a moment from your shopping, your food, and your time with family & friends this Christmas season to think about those who are limited to other activities – like trying to save the lives of their wounded buddies, patrolling cold mountain roads littered with improvised explosive devices, and sleeping alone in hostile farm fields.

In 2007, I spent the week of Christmas enforcing a Temporary Flight Restriction over the President and his family.  As important as this was, it was in all reality one of the most boring weeks of my life.  But this was the way it was supposed to be; it meant that the First Family was safe with no intervention on my part.  The following Christmas was a little different…

Trying to bring a little comfort to my quarters

On Christmas Eve, 2008, I was flying a four-hour night patrol over central Afghanistan.  It was a quiet night, as one would imagine a Christmas Eve in America.  We returned to our airbase when our mission was over and we were low on fuel.  As we were on final approach and with our guard lowered, we received an urgent request for air support 20 minutes away.  We barely had enough fuel to fly there and back, let alone stay there to assist the troops on the ground.  We were told that a tanker would meet us there to refuel us, so with that faith we hurried to the hostilities.  When we arrived over the friendly location, the clouds were solid from 1,000 feet above ground to 20,000 feet, and the moon was a few days from being new, providing little illumination.  The only thing we knew about our tanker’s location was that he was at 22,000 feet, so we climbed to 21,000 feet, sandwiched in between the clouds and the tanker’s altitude.  We finally saw his lights as we approached bingo fuel, so we quickly connected and received enough gas to get the situation on the ground sorted out.  We were eventually able to get below the clouds and made a few low-altitude, high-speed passes over the friendly location and the presumed hostile location, searching for the enemy with our infrared and night-vision devices.  The fire stopped just long enough for the friendlies to regain order and collect themselves.  Shortly thereafter, another flight of F-15Es arrived to replace us.  I passed the situation update, and as I was checking-out with our controller on the ground, he wished us a Merry Christmas – with the sound of gunfire and artillery echoing in the background.  For the rest of the night, as I was sleeping in my bunk, I couldn’t help but think of those guys, still miles away from their base and fighting their way back to their Christmas Eve in the cold dark.

This year, thousands of men and women will spend their holiday season in a similar manner.  Don’t forget about them.  They need your support as they continue to support you in ways that you can’t imagine.
I’ll leave you with this popular Christmas poem.

“Merry Christmas, My Friend” by LCpl James M Schmidt, USMC, 1986

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.

I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

The New Year in Afghanistan

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