American columnist Marjorie Holmes once wrote, “At Christmas, all roads lead home.” Judging by air traffic control statistics, Holmes is as spot-on today as the day in 1991 that her words were published.
Trade organization Airlines for America predicts 45.7 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines during an 18-day holiday window encompassing Christmas and New Year’s Day. That’s about 2.54 million weary, possibly short-tempered, people each day. And travelers have been through the wringer: tasked with finding the perfect gift, braving the throngs of human madness descending on aerodromes, and forking over $15 dollars for airport coffee. It’s a veritable battlefield and families should feel blessed when the nomad factions of their kinfolk endure such atrocities to make the trip.
It’s a journey filled with frustrated, petty, oftentimes selfish people, though, when you realize our military men and women overseas are forgoing their home and hearth to ensure America’s holiday celebrants enjoy peaceful and heartfelt family gatherings.
The U.S. has 1.3 million troops on active duty with more than 450,000 stationed overseas in not-so-glamorous travel destinations. The United States has 800 military bases in more than 70 countries; in contrast, Britain, France, and Russia maintain about 30 foreign bases combined. Yes, our troops protect freedom-loving people around the globe.
And yes, they understood the sacrifices they would make to serve their great and free nation. But they, too, would love to be fireside with family and friends during Christmas, listening to Burl Ives, The Chipmunks, John Lennon, and even Barbra Streisand croon carols through the surround sound.
In lieu of stopping time – which hasn’t been perfected yet – to allow for a homecoming, several groups and amazing individuals have sprouted up over the past decade, with a united goal in sending gifts of love and home to soldiers in the midst of deployment.
One such group, Any Soldier, began when Army Sergeant Brian Horn was deployed to Iraq in 2003. His parents routinely sent care packages every week – which he, in turn, shared with those men and women of his unit who otherwise went without such gifts. His parents upped their game and began to address future boxes to “Attn: Any Soldier,” and within a few short months, started an organization that today serves thousands of troops.
Other charities including Hugs for Heroes and Stockings for Soldiers are also on the frontlines in helping to make a merry moment for those far from home.
Kids for Kindness
Soldiers overseas will also be getting letters from children this year – filled with gratitude and cheer. A local country music radio station in Arizona partnered up with Legacy Traditional Schools for the Letters from Home project. A total of 14,000 letters, gathered from 16 different school campuses in Arizona and Nevada, are now en route. Sarah Benedict, principal at the Laveen, Arizona campus, is proud of Legacy Traditional Schools for remaining patriotic and instilling a sense of citizenship in all students, saying it’s important that her kids have a “love of country.”
Students sent thankful messages. As Anthony Martinez, a fifth-grader, wrote, “Very few people are as helpful and willing as you are. If there were more people like you, our country would be an amazing place. Your job is hard and dangerous, but you still do it for us.”
And Anaya Cuen, a fourth-grader, was honored by the soldiers’ service, writing, “I am so happy to be an American. I bet it is hard to take care of us, but I think you guys are doing a great job. Thank you for your service.”
In this writer’s opinion, every school in this nation should embrace this tradition.
Take a Breath
Americans are in a last-minute Christmas frenzy to hang their perfect decorations, purchase the coveted material gifts, and set tables for small villages – not necessarily for families, but for others to ooh and ahh over, and comment with likes and heart emojis on social media.
And the reason we are able to boast and parade and speak our minds is not a done deal, for our freedoms must continually be protected at all costs. Our men and women who bravely, willingly, selflessly keep our nights silent and cups filled with good cheer should be thanked this Christmas and every day of the year.
Take a breath and say a prayer for our boots on the ground. And dream of a day that all soldiers will be in-country and able to celebrate peace on earth.