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Christmas Far from Home

A military Christmas is different

Christmas Far from Home

PART ONE

A cold wind swept the dirt street sending clouds of dust into the air. A few pedestrians scurried along the worn paths between the ruined buildings. Anxiety mixed with despair was the most common emotion that seemed to be etched deep into their weathered faces. Quickly they dashed across the dusty, rubble-filled street, eager to duck into the protective shadows to avoid being in the open for any extended amount of time. A few boys and young men gathered in an alleyway, all armed with guns and knives.

They stood tall, and strutted with exaggerated pride. Each had a story, and they exchanged their tales of bravery against the evil ones in loud, angry voices. They polished each tiny detail to impress their audience, and holy references were inserted liberally to glorify the carnage. Mohai was the youngest of them, yet even he managed to acquire a weapon. He acquired it in the same way all his friends did, by prying it from a dead man’s hands. When they heard the tell-tale whapping sound of an approaching helicopter, they dispersed into the shadowy ruins of bombed buildings, like cockroaches scurrying from the light.

Neba knew her brother, Mohai, was in the group of young men that scurried out, under the cover of darkness, to seek revenge for the deaths of loved ones. She knew he would be out all night. He had his AK 47 and several bandoleers of ammunition with him. At the evening call to prayer, she asked Allah to hold his protective hand over her brother. Mohai had promised to bring her a gun. At first she did not like the idea. Now, as she cowered in the corner, she longed for something more than the ceremonial knife of her dead father to protect herself. The stories she heard whispered between the older women about what the “evil ones” did to young women both frightened and angered her. As darkness approached she sat shivering in the corner, waiting for her mother, Dojhe, to come home. It was not her real home, but it was one of the few buildings left standing. She sat huddled in the shadows of the dingy, dirt hut. No electricity, no firewood, no candle to fight back the gloom of the approaching night. Soon the room would be filled with others, none of them really strangers. In this small village everyone was related, and everyone took care of relatives no matter how distant the relationship.

Sitting in the corner hunched on her heels, Neba rocked back and forth. Her eyes, wide with fright, darted quickly in the direction of any noise. The air was rank with the putrid stench of open sewage and rotting garbage. The smell did not bother her. The odor was only offensive to those who did not live there. She clutched the small, stuffed, toy horse tightly in her hands, her frail body quivered from the cold. Hunger was so much a part of her life; she no longer noticed the pain in her stomach. In the seven years of her life she had never gone to school, never learned to read, or seen a map of where she lived. The world, as a globe, was unknown to her. Her world was flat and cold. She did not know the glories of the “OLD WORLD,” the fantastic advances made by the “NEW WORLD,” nor did she know she was part of the “THIRD WORLD.” The small village, a suburb of Gaza, was Neba’s world--the only world she knew. Everything that she learned was from the teachings of the Koran that her mother and brother read to her.

Neba had come to the hut early to make sure there was enough room for her mother. It was always hard to find shelter, so she camped in the corner to wait for her mother. Now that the sun was going down others would come seeking shelter from the night, and soon the room would be crowded. After her father was killed by the “evil ones,” they had no place to stay.

Dojhe worked long hours in a garment factory, sewing clothes to be shipped to places with strange sounding names. Clothes they could not afford to buy, and of a style the Koran forbid them to wear. The job was hard work, but at least it was a job. Dojhe’s employer did not care about the workers, who they were, or where they came from, as long as they produced, and did not ask for more money.

The place where Dojhe worked was so different from the place she lived, but the settlers would not let her move there. The new houses were only for the chosen people. The settlement was built on land that had belonged to Dojhe’s family for hundreds of generations, but now she was considered a foreigner. Each night, Neba’s mother, on her way home, would forage through the garbage left by the vendors in the market place. She smuggled the fruits and vegetables that the vendors tossed away across the “no man’s land.”

She risked her life daily, sneaking across the strip of land that separated the two worlds. At the crossing she would remove her customary all-concealing burka and hide it. Under the robe she wore clothes that let her look like the women on the other side, to work among the evil ones, to steal food. She knew Allah would forgive her, because she did it to feed her family, and because she stole only from the evil ones. The fruits and vegetables were welcome additions to the food rations supplied by the UN aid station.

Dojhe still used the documents, stolen from a dead Jewish woman, to help her pass the security checkpoints. At work she wore clothing stolen off the clothes lines in the Jewish settlement to avoid attracting attention. The trip to and from work across “no man’s land” was never easy, but now the military patrols were more present, and night vision devices made it harder for anyone to slip through undetected.

As soon as she crossed the border, on her way home, she would cover her head and face with a shroud, and cover the western style clothes with drab, all-concealing robes, in compliance with the teachings of her faith. Only when she had properly covered herself, could she feel more at ease.

She did not like the way the soldiers’ eyes hungrily consumed her exposed flesh, and she never looked them in the eye. The tales told by other women in her village about what men did to young women flooded her brain with horribly vivid images. Too many of her friends had fallen victim to the sexual assaults of the patrolling soldiers, and committed suicide to avoid living in the sinful shame they brought upon themselves and their families.

It was dark by time Dojhe returned home. The other women had started a small cooking fire, and were busy preparing a meal from the U.N. and Red Cross rations. They were thankful for the food, but resented the humiliation of having to accept foreign charity. They made room for Dojhe. The smuggled fruits and vegetables were a welcome addition to the meager meal. Neba was happy to see her mother home safe. Tomorrow her mother would not have to go to work, and they would visit her mother’s sister on the far side of the village. It was dangerous to travel, but it was important to keep in touch with family. Dojhe sat next to her daughter, and they ate while exchanging news and gossip with the other women. Neba was tired, and fell asleep while her mother chatted with the other women in a small circle around the fire. Tomorrow they would visit Neba’s aunt. It was a long journey all the way across town. They would walk, because busses were too often clandestinely converted to bomb delivery systems. They had to make the journey to see her, because her son lost a leg when he stepped of a land mine. Now she depended on her family to help her with whatever support they could provide.

PART TWO

Sandy should have listened to her father and his friends when they warned her about promises made by Army recruiters. The recruiter never mentioned call-ups, and long deployments. Well maybe he did, but Sandy did not hear it, she was not listening to that. She was desperate to get a college degree, and the recruiter assured her the military would pay for her to go to school. Her high school grades were not good enough to earn a scholarship. She tried to find a job, to work her way through college, but the economy was even worse than her grade-point average. After receiving hundreds of rejections, she got “lucky” and found a job close to the university. The employer was very understanding, and let her have flexible hours that allowed her to attend classes. Unfortunately the job did not pay enough to cover tuition.

In her desperation she went back to the National Guard Recruiter. The recruiter was quick to point out all the educational benefits offered. He told her that she could go to the state university for free, as long as she was a member of the National Guard.

The recruiter made it sound so easy. Just one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer was all she would have to serve, according to the recruiter. She would be paid for her active duty time and get to shop at the Post Exchange while on duty. If he mentioned anything about deployments she surely did not remember. Oh, Sandy should have listened to her father, and his friends, when they warned her about promises made by recruiters, but she had her heart set on studying to be a minister.

She had been very active in her church, and was even selected to teach the younger children in Sunday school. The last two summers she had gone to a special missionary school instead of the normal summer school classes. Sandy felt a calling to be a minister and joining the National Guard would give her the chance to study. She knew the National Guard was her only chance to get the training she needed to answer the call of the ministry without going into debt.

When she went to Army Basic Training, her pride and devotion helped her through the hardships. She was so happy that President Bush supported the military and the church so much. The years of White House sin, and political degradation were finally over. Her devotion to God and Country were what kept her going. When she first learned that her unit was going to be deployed, she was happy to be a part of the peacekeeping force.

Now she was deployed to a dirty, little, desert camp in the middle of nowhere. She was sent there as part of a ”Task Force for Peace.” Her National Guard unit was assigned the responsibility of patrolling the border between the Jewish settlement and the Palestinian village. Women were not supposed to be put on hazardous duty, but there were not enough men to fill all the slots. As a result, women were pulling patrol.

No one in her company had been killed, but two had been wounded, one so badly he had to be medevaced back to the states. It was a hell of a way to get to go back home, but it seemed like that was the only way to get back home. Every day Sandy learned anew that “the price of peace was blood, and the price was very high.” Car bombs, suicide bombings, and sniper attacks were routine.

Sandy was not sure if peace was possible between two groups of non-Christian people that had known nothing but war. She was positive that if they learned to accept “Jesus” as their savior, and be born again they would be blessed with “peace and democratic way of life” that the President talked about in all of his speeches. She resented being there, she resented the interruption in her studies, she resented the way women were treated, and she especially resented defending people she “knew in her heart” were responsible for the horrors of September the eleventh. Her patriotic pride in knowing she was helping the President spread “truth, justice, and the American way of life” helped her overcome her resentment.

Her orders had said the deployment would be for three months, but that was over ten months ago. Now, no one could say when she would return home. One thing was sure, not before Christmas, as Christmas was only a few days away. Being a born again Christian, the thought of being away from family and friends on Christmas served to amplify her homesickness.

In her depressed mood, she fumbled with the combination to her mailbox. The mail service was not very dependable. Sometimes weeks would go by with no mail, and then on one day she would get all the letters that had piled up in the system. She held her breath as she opened the little door hoping there would be some mail. This was truly her lucky day. She pulled out five pale-blue, onionskin envelopes, and a yellow card notifying her she had a package to pick up at the window. She knew at a glance the letters were all from her mother. She was the only one that used the old blue onionskin paper. It was a throwback to the old days when airmail cost so much, and people used to use the onionskin to reduce cost. The package was large, and she danced with delight while the clerk hefted it to the window. The postal regulations requiring customs documentation with a detailed listing all the cakes, cookies, candies, and a detailed description of the Christmas gifts contained in the box spoiled the surprise, but did not dampen her spirits.

Sandy hurried back to her “room” in the temporary structure, and dropped onto her cot before she started to read the letters from home. She leaned against the wall, pulled her knees up to her chest, and used her knee like a little desk to support the flimsy, blue, onionskin paper. “P.S. God Bless the U.S.A, and God Bless you!” was at the end of every letter Sandy’s mother wrote. Those words meant so much to Sandy. It helped her get through the drudgery of another deplorable duty day. She opened the big box and sampled some of the cookies and candy, but decided not to unwrap the gifts until Christmas morning, just like at home.

It was time to start getting her uniform and combat gear ready. She would not have time in the morning. Guard Mount came before the sunrise, and there was always a crowd at the little portable shower room. She would have to hurry just to get into all the combat gear she had to wear for patrol. Getting ready for guard mount took longer than getting dressed to go to a high school prom. She packed some cookies and candy in plastic bags and put them in her rucksack. She could eat them while she was walking around the control area that she would be assigned to patrol.

Before she went to bed, she took time to write a letter to thank her mother for all the letters. Sandy did not want her family to worry about her. She always tried to be positive and joke around when she wrote home. She wrote about how she had been going to the chaplain to help prepare for the Christmas service. Jokingly she told about how desperate they must be, as she is in the choir, even though she can’t sing.

She wrote her mom about how upset she got when she heard some of the other soldiers talking about how they felt about being stationed there. Even her Team NCOIC made statements about how he felt sorry for the Palestinians because they did not have a country to call their own. He said he could understand why they were fighting. Sandy wrote to her mother that she could not understand why anyone would want to fight for this wasteland. She could not understand why they attacked the U.S. Troops. After all, couldn’t they understand, the U.S. was there to help them. Sandy closed the letter with a hug and a kiss, and a “God bless you all.” It was getting dark outside, and she would have to get up early to try to beat the rush to the shower. Sandy turned out the light, and wrestled with a fitful sleep.

PART THREE

The pre-dawn air was cold, and had the smell of burning wood, from the little cooking fires, smeared over the ever-present stench. The sun rises late during the winter solstice; it was a little after seven in the morning with just pre-dawn glow lighting the horizon. The night had been very cold and the heavy frost gave ghostly phosphorescence to everything that did not move. It was a quiet time. It was a good time to travel, and getting an early start was a good idea because it was a long walk. Dojhe and Neba quickly packed the dried fruits, nuts and other items of food (smuggled from the vendors) and a canteen with hot tea. It was all they had to offer in support of Dojhe’s sister and her family. The two women left early because there was less gunfire at that time of day. Mohai joined them at the corner of the street. He was returning from a night of revenge and plunder. He had a bag full of items he had “liberated” from the evil ones to add to the gifts they would give to support their family. It was his duty to accompany them, as no women were to travel without a male escort. Taking a bus was too dangerous. Buses were frequently used as bomb delivery systems. They traveled in silence, hunched in the shadows, their long dark robes making them shadows within the shadows.

In the faint dawn glow four military personnel walked, two on each side of the rubble filled street. Sandy was the second on the left side. Kevlar helmet, body armor, load bearing equipment, and a wool scarf over her mouth and nose concealed any trace of femininity. She carried her weapon locked and loaded, across her body, always at the ready. The four moved slowly and yet deliberately from house to house. They would trade positions at each building, as the point scanned the shadowy entries. Doorways and windows in ruined buildings were ideal for snipers. Almost every day an American soldier was killed or wounded.

The casualties were quickly evacuated back to the States. Some soldiers, that had been assigned there for a long time, joked it was probably the only way to get out of the place. Sandy wanted to go home, but not in a body bag. She learned to be careful. She learned to depend on her patrol team members, and she knew they were depending on her to do the right thing at the right time. The punishment for even a small mistake could be the death penalty. Ignorance was not a defense; mistakes could lead to death not only for her, but everyone in her team.

Dojhe decided to travel along the road that was the boundary of the two zones. It was a shortcut, but very dangerous because the military patrolled the area. At first sight of the approaching soldiers she pulled her family together in the depths of the shadows, hoping the patrol would pass by without detecting them. Her heart fell to the pit of her soul, as she saw her son aim his AK-47 in the direction of the soldiers. Without thought Dojhe jumped in front of his gun.

Detecting motion in the shadows, Sandy raised her hand to halt those behind her. Two members of her team took cover and aimed their M-16s at the huddled mass of humanity, while Sandy and the NCOIC cautiously advanced. With their weapons at the ready the NCO called out in a shrill commanding voice for them to come out with their hands above their heads. That was followed by a long pause of stressful silence, a silence broken by the sound of distant gunfire. It was hard to tell what direction it was coming from. The sound reverberated off the ancient walls and rang through alleyways. Again he barked out the command to come out, only this time in the few words of Arabic he had been taught.

Three dark shapes reluctantly moved out of the shadow. One shadowy figure held an AK-47 high over his head. Sandy advanced and confiscated the weapon. She saw the other two were women. One was shorter clutching a toy horse, a young girl. The other was taller, perhaps the mother. She was toting a leather bag. The sergeant grabbed the bag and groped around the contents in search of possible concealed weapons. To him it all looked like garbage. Old fruit, plastic packets, the remains of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), and other bits and pieces of things discarded by the American personnel stationed in the area.

In exasperated contempt he tossed the bag at the feet of the woman, and demanded that the young boy get on his knees with his hands behind his back so he could be cuffed before being taken into custody. Suddenly an old truck rounded the corner. Two men in the truck were firing weapons. Sandy heard the whooshing sound, saw the little clouds of dust explode into the air, as the bullets impacted the dusty road. She dove for cover, and as she rolled over she could see the silhouette of a helicopter gunship sweep across her field of vision.

Time seemed distorted, stopping and starting, running, at times too slow, then too fast. The woman grabbed the girl and ran to the nearest door. The boy grabbed the weapon that Sandy had tossed away. She had him in her sights and he was aiming at her. They both had forgotten about the truck, and the helicopter, until the truck came into Sandy’s view.

In the midst of the noise, dust, and confusion, Neba came rushing out to pick up the toy horse she had dropped. Compelled by some force beyond their comprehension, Sandy and Mohai, both simultaneously, jumped in the direction of Neba. They did not pay attention to the truck, nor did they notice the attack helicopter fire a salvo of missiles. They only wanted to save the young girl. A bright flash froze time. A missile fired from the attack helicopter scored a direct hit on the truck loaded with explosives. Three bodies were catapulted through the air into the open door of the mud hut by the shock wave. The blast was so powerful it caused the entire building to collapse.

PART FOUR

The helicopter banked in a tight turn, the whopping sound of its rotors departing the scene, their mission accomplished, another truck bomb destroyed. What once was a house, a home, was now reduced to a pile of rubble. Smoke and dust clouded the air. In a dark chamber, formed from the roof timbers and clay walls, dust swirled in the air. Buried under the debris four limp bodies lay, as consciousness struggled to regain control. Life forces surged through the fragile bodies. Surrounded by blackness, slowly consciousness brought sensation: taste, smell, and feeling. The sounds of whimpering, moaning, and groaning echoed in the black chamber, as eyes strained to adjust to the darkness.

Sandy took silent inventory of her body. Dust in the air made her choke, and left a gritty stale taste in her mouth. The pain that rushed through her body was, in a way, reassuring. At least she was alive. She slowly started to move, first her hands then her feet. One leg was stuck under some roofing timber. She managed to free her leg, but it was painfully clear it was broken.

Lightning bolts of white-hot pain flashed through every fiber of her existence each time she moved her leg, forcing her to cry out in anguish. She heard the sounds of weeping and moaning around her in the darkness. She did not panic because she knew her friends would be looking for her.

What she had to do first was to make sure she was secure until someone could rescue her. Sandy did not smoke, but she always carried a lighter to burn the strings off her uniform prior to inspection. Now she needed the little flame to light up the chamber they were captured in. The flame provided enough light to see the shapes of the woman to her left, and the young man who seemed to have his body protectively shielding the limp body that must be the little girl. The rapid flickering of the flame indicated there was a draft of fresh air, so they would not suffocate.

Mohai turned in the direction of the light. He tried to raise his hand to gesture for help, but the obviously broken appendage dangled in the flickering light. “Help her,” he rasped out between clenched teeth, as he fought against the pain of moving his broken arm. Sandy was surprised. Surprised that he spoke English. Surprised that he would talk to her. Surprised that they were all still alive. She saw that the chamber was not high enough to stand up in, but with a broken leg she was not planning to stand up. Gritting her teeth against the pain she sat upright and moved toward the little girl.

As she brought the light closer, she could see the pool of blood under the gaping wound on the girl’s arm. Sandy found some scraps of paper to start a small fire for more light, and to fight off the chill. Mohai understood what she was trying to do, and he gathered some wood to add to the fire. All the first aid training she had practiced over and over in basic training seemed to make sense now. Almost without thought, she pulled the sterile dressing out of the pocket on her load bearing equipment strap, and applied it to the wound. Mohai looked on in amazement as this infidel tended to his sister. The dressing seemed to stop the bleeding, and no tourniquet was required. Sandy reached for Mohai’s arm. At first he jerked away. Loathing blazed in his eyes. Realizing she was trying to help him, he relaxed a bit, but he still did not trust the ways of the infidels.

Sandy broke a piece of wood to use as a splint for his arm. Dojhe had recovered consciousness, and had been watching this military person administer aid to her children. She even tore strips of her shroud to be used to secure the splints. Gesturing, pointing, and using what little English she had Dojhe asked, “You hurt?” Sandy put her hand to her broken leg and nodded wincing in pain. Dojhe turned to her son, and in a flurry of whispered words that Sandy could not understand, commanded him to find something to put on her leg like she had done for his arm. Sandy checked on the dressing on the little girl’s arm. The bleeding had stopped, but she was still unconscious.

Dojhe tapped Sandy on the shoulder and held a leather strap up to her mouth. It took a few moments before Sandy grasped that she was to bite down on the leather while they worked on her leg. She had never taken the time to learn the local language or the customs of the people that lived in this part of the world.

All this added to her misgivings about letting them touch her. The need to get her leg in a splint overshadowed her fear. Sandy bit down on the leather, as white-hot, blinding pain exploded in her leg. Her vision blurred and tunneled inward, until she plunged into the dark spiral of unconsciousness. She seemed to tumble, awash in a swirl of images. The mother, the boy, the little girl, Joseph, Mary, three wise men, a shepherd, angels--everything twirled and tumbled around in her mind. She thought that she heard the angels sing. Cascading, lost in the blackness, Sandy felt a presence, felt the forces of divine intervention. Suddenly she found that she could understand the workings of the universe from the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the largest galaxy. In that instant it was revealed to her that everyone was a part of the greatness of the universe, and there was no greater or lesser God. There was really only one God.

A pulsating, throbbing pain accompanied the return of consciousness. Slowly her eyes focused on the trio hunched near the little fire. Dojhe cradled the small girl, now conscious, in her arms and sang softly words Sandy could not understand. Was that the angels’ voices she had heard? Mohai looked on protectively.

In the dim flickering light Sandy thought they looked just like the holy nativity that was displayed outside of her church every Christmas. This was really the strangest Christmas Sandy could imagine. Dim memories of the strange experience she had just gone through while her leg was being tended to, sent a chill down her spine. She had always been taught whenever three or more are gathered in His name, He is there.

They were all gathered together in this chaos, and though they may not agree on the name, He was there protecting them. Sandy looked at her leg. It was sandwiched between two wooden slats that were tied tightly with strips of cloth from the woman’s robe. Now moving her leg no longer caused so much pain. Mohai noticed the motions, and whispered in his mother’s ear. After a short exchange of angry whispers, Dojhe pointed in the direction of Sandy, and Mohai moved over to hand a canteen of tea to the soldier with a broken leg. At first she refused the offer, and reached for her canteen. It had been ruptured by a piece of metal from the blast, and was empty. Sandy’s thirst was greater than her caution, and she accepted the second offer of tea. She drank, but did not drain the container. The little girl that had lost so much blood would need to drink to gain her strength. Sandy remembered the cookies and candy in her backpack, and worked to slip out of the straps.

The rucksack was torn and tattered. Pieces of metal, fragments from the explosion, had penetrated all the way through, but thanks to her body armor she was alive to see it. Sandy opened the packets of candy and cookies and offered them to the trio. She resorted to hand gestures, bringing the items to her mouth to show that it was food to eat. Dojhe accepted the offer, and lowered her head in humble thanks.

At first Mohai only looked on, his eyes set hard, filled with anger, frustration, and fear. How could he eat the food of the devil? Eat of the food of those who killed his father, his friends? He sat in silence while his mother first fed his sister and then herself. Dojhe opened the bag she had been clutching, and offered Sandy some of the dried fruit and nuts. Mohai’s hunger was too great to continue his self-imposed fast. He reluctantly ate the infidel’s offerings. In a short time all the food and tea was consumed. Sandy was very concerned that no one had come to her rescue. After so much time, she worried that something must have prevented her team members from digging her out. The small fire had warmed the chamber, and was providing enough light to permit Sandy to examine the room to see if there was a way out.

Using her rifle as a probe, Sandy tried to find a way out. Mohai noticed what she was doing, and moved to her side to assist in the effort to dig out. Great care had to be taken, as the beams were holding up the fallen walls. Moving the wrong timber could cause the crumbling wall to collapse and crush them all. It was hard to move in the cramped area, and her broken leg made it even more difficult. Mohai was more mobile, but his broken arm made it hard to move heavy objects. Soon they learned to use their weapons to pry and lever larger objects to the side. Poking and prying was not what the weapons were designed for, and soon both killing machines were bent and damaged beyond use for anything except digging. They found they could work as a team even without understanding each other’s language. During a brief pause Sandy heard voices coming from outside, and she started to scream and bang the butt of her weapon on the wooden beams to attract the attention of whoever was outside.

PART FIVE

When she stopped to listen for a response, she heard voices shouting, and thumping sounds from someone hitting the rubble on the outside. She was showered with grit falling from the crumbling wall material as the thumping sound came closer. Mohai pulled Sandy backward, as a large brick crashed down in advance of an avalanche of debris. Clouds of dust swirled in the sunlight that poured through a small hole. Both Sandy and Mohai screamed in delight, letting the rescuers know they were still alive. Encouraged by the noise from within the small group of workers feverishly chipped at the small hole. Bricks started to fall as the hole was expanded. Sandy motioned to Dojhe to bring the young girl over so they could help her out through the hole. Mohai assisted his mother in climbing out of the chamber. Sandy crawled forward and used her weapon as a crutch to stand up. For the first time she saw the faces of the team that had rescued her. It was a very strange team of three men. One Palestinian in a dirty white robe, one orthodox Jew wearing a black suit and black hat, and SPC Harris from her patrol team in full battle uniform all helped pull her up out of the hole. Sandy stood leaning on her weapon “crutch” waiting for Mohai to be freed.

At the foot of the mound that once was a house, Sandy saw the remains of the truck-bomb scattered around a deep crater. A military ambulance was parked a few yards away. Two medics were busy tending to the limp figure of the girl while her mother looked on nervously. Another medic was tending to someone dressed in desert camouflage. A black body bag, obviously filled, lay between the ambulance and the medics. SPC Harris came over to assist her descent to the street. He told her that the explosion had killed SSG Hicks, and SGT Woods was missing an arm. SPC Harris had been “lucky.” He had been far enough away, behind a low wall, and only had a few scratches. The news of SSG Hicks’ death, and SGT Woods’ injury were like poking needles into frozen meat. She heard the words and heard the voices, but did not comprehend what they were trying to tell her. Sandy saw everything in exaggerated detail, yet nothing seemed to be real. She was assisted into the ambulance and treated for shock. The mother cradled the little girl in her arms, and Mohai crouched near the door, using his weapon in the one good hand to steady himself, the other arm in a sling. The trip to the military medical facility was clocked in a surreal silence. No one spoke, or made a sound. In the silence Sandy remembered it was Christmas Eve, and never thought she would be spending a Christmas like this.

In the hurried hustle and bustle at the field medical unit, Sandy was separated from the civilians, and she never saw them again. They were given cursory medical treatment. The medics set Mohai’s arm, stitched up the wound on the girl’s arm, examined Dojhe, and held them overnight for observation, before turning them out to fend for themselves. Sandy felt herself being pushed, probed, and prodded. She felt no pain. She only felt empty. One of her team was dead. Sandy thought she would never spend Christmas like this.

On Christmas morning she got orders informing her that both she and SGT Woods were to be medevaced out. With the time zone shift, she would eat Christmas dinner at Walter Reed military hospital. If the doctors did not discover any other medical problems, she would be home before New Year’s Eve. The joy of going home was dampened by the fact that SSG Hicks was going home with an American flag draped over his wooden casket. Sandy said a silent prayer for SSG Hicks and his family. Though she never saw the three Palestinians again, she could not forget them. The young man’s eyes filled with fear, anger, and defiance haunted her every night. The thoughts of the little girl, innocently clutching her toy horse, her big almond shaped eyes staring out from under her head scarf, brought tears to Sandy’s eyes.

The woman, the mother, did she have great ambitions for her children? Did she pray to whatever God she knew to protect her children, as Sandy’s mother prayed for her safe return? Through all the hate and fear, through all the saber rattling, all the killing and bloodshed, it was easy to forget that underneath they were all children of God, and there really was no lesser or greater God. Through the prism of perception it sometimes appeared that there was more than one, but there was really only one. She knew that God never gave a burden that could not be carried. Now she was more determined than ever to go to college and become a minister, to spread the word of God.

Epilogue

Even though this is fiction and does not reflect the real conditions that face our soldiers daily, the youth of our country, our future, has been called upon to defend our way of life. They stand in harm’s way. They are doing what no one wants to do, because someone has to do it. They are forgoing the Christmas traditions that have become so much a part of our lives. They fight to ensure our freedom, our freedom of religious celebration. They are far from family and friends, when being with loved ones means so much. Pray for them all. Pray that they return home safe and sound of both body and soul. Pray that they learn from their experiences, and see the world, not as a collection of small patches of conflict, but as a grand global collection of ideas, and infinite possibilities, and each can share the Treasures of Christmas.

I Wish you a very Merry Christmas and pray that the New Year brings Peace, Joy and Happiness to ALL!!!

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