KABUL, Afghanistan – Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, thousands of miles away from their loved ones, did things this Christmas Day that they wouldn’t at home. They improvised – building an ersatz Christmas tree out of stacked communications equipment. And they partied.
At Camp Phoenix, outside Kabul, dinner included prime rib, shrimp cocktail and a cake the shape – and nearly the size – of a Christmas tree.
After the sun went down, and the mammoth spread of food was removed, the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation club at Camp Phoenix cleared the dance floor and blasted hip-hop music until midnight.
NATO units from Romania, who maintain a detachment at Phoenix, invited Georgia National Guardsmen to an evening outdoor barbecue, but only a few were up to the challenge of yet another meal.
With the American military’s “General Order No. 1” still in effect, all celebrants were teetotalers. U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan are prohibited from consuming alcohol.
Throughout Nangahar province, Georgia Guard members peppered their barren bases and heavily armored MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, with creative signs of Christmas.
SPC David Brunson, 21, of Rome, Ga., donned reindeer ears instead of a helmet, which popped out of the turret of his MRAP as he visited a base near Torkum Gate, an entry route from Pakistan.
Nearby, Staff Sgt. Michael Gloyd, 32, of Marietta, Ga., and his comrades turned extra communications antennas on their side and stacked them on top of one another to create a makeshift Christmas tree. One decoration was particularly special: an ornament from the Marietta police department, where he works as an officer when he is not deployed.
Underneath the tree, someone had placed gifts but no one could figure out who wrapped them or what was inside. “Maybe they’re orders,” a soldier quipped. “Or another manual for us to read,” chimed in another.
In Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the Guard’s Charlie troop took the day off from patrols. Instead, soldiers in motorized carts went around the base delivering care packages.
By nightfall, the troops gathered around a fire pit. Nearby someone set up a table stacked with cigars and cans of eggnog and a small, lit Christmas tree. A radio blared Christmas classics.
But even in Jalalabad, where violence is relatively low, soldiers could not escape the risks of war. A mortar landed in a nearby base, which arrived with a muddled thump as the group of soldiers sang carols together over the fire. By evening, commanders began planning for the next day’s patrols.