The holiday spirit flourishes a long way from home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 3, 2008

24 December 2007. It’s Christmas Eve.

When most people think of Christmas and the holiday season, I believe they think of spending quality time with loved ones and friends, sitting around a beautifully decorated tree, opening gifts and eating a feast of great holiday food.

I’ve always believed Christmas is just that, along with a strong focus on love, fellowship and giving but not always in terms of buying gifts. There are so many ways to give.

Many people asked if I’m depressed being away from home during the holidays. I hate to say I’m “used to it” as this is my fifth Christmas in 20 years being deployed. Of course I’d love to be home with my family. And even though my Christmas here in Afghanistan lacks most of the things that normally inspire the Christmas spirit, if you ask me today, I’ll tell you I had one of the best Christmas experiences of my life.

Thanks to the diligent efforts and dedication of 40 military and department of defense contractors here at Camp Eggers, I experienced a magic on this Christmas Eve that I’ll treasure forever. Today I had the option of just resting and relaxing, but I volunteered for a Volunteer Community Relations (VCR) mission to bring a little “Christmas” and holiday cheer to the needy children of Afghanistan. We first convoyed out to the Kabul Orthopedic, and organization that provides rehabilitation, orthotic, prosthetics and physiotherapy for disabled men, women and children. Our focus was on the children who are young amputees, though many were also disabled by cerebral palsy or polio. Our second stop was also in Kabul at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital.

We brought approximately 280 bags of toys, games, candy and winter outerwear to the children at these facilities.

Christmas truly is about giving and these kids gave me a present with their smiles.

I witnessed children in dire conditions of health immediately become happy and joyful upon our arrival. Most of these kids have never been given anything before.

I spent time walking throughout most of the wards, stopping here and there to give out the bags and play with the kids. I entered a cancer and leukemia ward and discovered numerous children under the age of 8 who were all terminal.

To put a smile on their faces with something as simple as a Matchbox toy car, a small stuffed animal, a plastic truck, a mini Barbie Doll — I felt the magic of Christmas unlike any in 38 years.

I also experienced some sights in this visit that don’t need to be described.

Always treasure life; it’s too precious not to.

Completing the VCR mission and returning to Camp Eggers in time for our CJ6 Directorate Christmas Party, I was called to duty yet again.

Several of our teammates were delayed on a work related mission and I was asked to be the stand-in Santa Claus for our troops.

At our party there were loads of food, holiday cheer and secret Santa gift giving. More importantly, greetings of handshakes and brotherly hugs, wishes of “Merry Christmas” and heartfelt thanks and appreciation for each other’s friendship and support filled the building. It was a great way to spend Christmas Eve.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? — Love for our fellow man.

It’s about 9 p.m. here and I just returned from the Green Bean Coffee shop. Looking up at the somewhat clear sky, I could see a nearly full moon and one big bright star.

With all I went through today, I couldn’t help but recall this night and the experiences of Joseph and Mary. As I thought of the horrible circumstances I’ve seen and experienced here in Afghanistan, I thought of the conditions Jesus was born in.

I’m sure they probably were not too different from what I see in the remote areas of Afghanistan.

It certainly makes me grateful for the comfortable surroundings I have on Camp Eggers and that my family has at home in Virginia. Never take anything in your lives for granted.

The objective of this e-mail was to come up with something meaningful and heartfelt to say to you for Christmas. I’ve tried to share my feelings about Christmas this year and I wanted to share something more.

However it’s been a struggle with exactly what to say. So, may the spirit of the season fill your hearts and homes with love, peace and joy. Know that my thoughts and prayers are with you all.

As you celebrate and enjoy, never forget, Christmas all started one night, so long ago with the birth of God’s one and only Son. Merry Christmas, God bless, and may your hearts be filled with love,


Don Wilson, a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy, is deployed in Afghanistan. He e-mails a letter home each week, and this is an edited version of that e-mail. His family lives in Ivor. His letters appear on Wednesdays.