Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The War on Christmas

Image courtesy: Sgt. Thomas Duval

Is there a war on Christmas? Yes, and that's not just an opinion.

No, I'm not talking about the "war" that traditional and progressive cable news hosts are having over whether the word "Christmas" is "under attack." No, I'm also not talking about the annual post-Thanksgiving midnight shopping "battles" for the best discount deals. (This year, a California woman is accused of assaulting 20 fellow shoppers with pepper spray at a Walmart.)

I'm talking about the real wars being fought by thousands of men and women in uniform in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the latter conflict scheduled to formally end on Dec. 31. In war zones, fending off a crazed woman armed with pepper spray would probably constitute the easiest part of the day.

Thirteen days before Black Friday, a U.S. Army Ranger named 1st Lt. Nick Vogt, 24, of Crestline, Ohio, lost both his legs when a terrorist-planted improvised explosive device blew up beneath him. Despite nearly dying after the devastating attack, the valiant soldier, as of Dec. 7, was hospitalized in Bethesda, Md., where he is fighting for his life after having endured multiple surgeries. His parents have requested our prayers, and they certainly have them.

Two days later, the Pentagon said Army Spc. David Hickman, 23, died in Baghdad, Iraq, after also encountering an IED. The ambitious young warrior was reportedly days away from starting his journey home to Greensboro, N.C., where he was already well-known for his success as a high school football player.

On Nov. 16, two soldiers, Spc. James Burnett Jr., 21, of Wichita, Kan., and Pfc. Matthew Colin, 22, of Navarre, Fla., were killed in Afghanistan's Kandahar province when a bomb detonated near their patrol. According to the Pentagon, they were preceded in death just days earlier by Spc. Johnathan McCain, 38, of Apache Junction, Ariz., and Spc. Calvin Pereda, 21, of Fayetteville, N.C.

All four soldiers were stationed at Alaska's Fort Wainwright, the home of America's arctic warriors. At a memorial service held on post, a grieving fellow soldier told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner what made the departed heroes so extraordinary.

"It takes a certain type of individual to enlist in the infantry," Staff Sgt. Johnathan Hand told the newspaper. "You know that your job is a little bit more dangerous than everyone else's."

As some Americans ate leftover turkey and clogged mall parking lots, a Marine field radio operator named Cpl. Adam Buyes, 21, was making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan on Nov. 26. The proud Marine left behind a long-lasting imprint, from Salem, Ore., where he lived, to Okinawa, Japan, where he was stationed, all the way to the violent sands of Helmand province, where he died in a combat incident that is under investigation.

"Cpl. Adam Buyes was a truly dedicated professional who cared for his Marines as if they were brothers from the beginning," 1st Sgt. Daniel Wilson said. "He was often emulated and adored by many of the Marines he came in contact with."

You can't buy that kind of legacy in a store. You have to earn it.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with giving a holiday gift to someone you care about. There is something wrong, however, with pundits wasting time arguing over the so-called war on Christmas and reporters hyping shopping battles at stores, especially while the overused words are being defined literally by brave Americans on post-9/11 battlefields.

Here's something for civilians like me to keep in mind this holiday season: Not only are our troops risking their lives in faraway lands; they are doing so while separated from their families.

One of those troops is a talented Marine journalist named Cpl. Reece Lodder, 22, whom you may have previously read about in this column. The Everson, Wash., native's wife is spending this holiday season in Hawaii, which is no vacation. She's worrying about her husband's safety.

For loved ones of the aforementioned fallen and wounded service members, there is grief, confusion, and devastation during this holiday season. Their brave sons died or lost limbs in battles that only 1 percent of Americans have volunteered to fight.

Is there a war on Christmas? You bet there is.


Image courtesy: Cpl. Katherine Keleher

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