In 1914, on the Western Front, armed enemies had a widespread "Christmas Truce", exchanging gifts and playing games together on Christmas Day. In the Pech River Valley in 2010, we were attacked four times on Christmas.
November had been a hard month, losing more men in the first part of that month than the entire five months prior combined. Commanders and leaders knew they could make a difference in their units' morale with the upcoming holidays. Some hit it big at Thanksgiving, with the cooks at one combat outpost (COP) managing to deep fry some turkeys, earning a Washington Post article about them. Other COPs' Thanksgiving meals were...Spartan.
So, as Christmas approached, we tried to get the spirit moving at each location. As the chaplain, I was the single point of contact for "Any Soldier" mail. People back home would cobble together packages with the help of their community organizations and churches, and send them to "Any Soldier / Marine". I had the blessing of a couple of organizations that were dedicated to just the COPs in our valley. So, we set out to make sure that every soldier in the unit received a Christmas present.
We had Christmas trees and lights at every COP, usually in the dining facility. We arranged for the troops to file through on Christmas Day to pick up a gift, wrapped mostly by my Chaplain Assistant, an older, single Dad with a great heart and work ethic. Our connected organizations of supportive civilians really came through, and we had more than enough.
The gifts we received were pretty cheap - not in a dismissive way, but in monetary value. They communicated that someone cared enough to make an effort, but they weren't gifts you'd be particularly excited about if you were home in the states- with one exception.
A pilot in the aviation unit that supported us in many firefights told his mother about how crazy our area was, and asked if she could help. She was connected to Apple, and managed to get around 50 iPads sent over to us! They were a hot commodity at the time, fairly new to the market. The command kept a lid on it, and leaders selected the men who would receive the iPads based primarily on their personal character.
I went with our battalion commander to each COP, where we had a short presentation ceremony. To a man, each soldier who lined up to received the gift-wrapped iPad though they were getting a book. When they opened the wrapped gifts, huge grins broke out on their faces - and the faces of everyone watching. Merry Christmas!!!! There were even some tears in these tough guys' eyes.
As for the enemy, they attacked every single COP that day. Also, I went to every single COP that day. However, on Christmas Day, the attacks didn't happen wherever the chaplain was celebrating Christmas with the men. Of course, I never would have promised that, nor expected it - my locations, convoys, and patrols were attacked all the time. But, on this special day, I was thankful that God connected gifts, compassion, joy, and safety together with the man who was supposed to be representing Him to these warriors. I certainly couldn't have done that alone.