Christmas at an Afghan Forward Operating Base

Maj. Ned Bartlebaugh, an Army chaplain, delivers a brief closing sermon at a Christmas Eve service at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Afghanistan.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GAMBERI — On Christmas morning, Spc. Clarecea Smith’s three children will be tearing open presents with family by their side, including Smith’s husband, her parents and her little ones’ aunts and uncles. She said she can’t wait to see the look on her 5-year-old son’s face when he gets his brand new four-wheeler.

Of course, that will have to be over Skype, since she’s on this small forward operating base in Afghanistan serving with the 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery. By the time her family’s Christmas Day starts in South Carolina, it’ll be about 8 p.m. here, and Smith’s Christmas will almost be over.

Like many deployed soldiers, she’ll spend Christmas Eve at work. From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., she’ll be acting as the noncommissioned officer in charge of flight operations.

But that won’t stop her from celebrating. Smith said she and the one other soldier working the flight terminal night shift will settle in and watch a few Christmas movies between flights.

She’s not the only one planning a Christmas movie binge for the holiday away from home. Staff Sgt. John McGuire said he’s planning a “Lethal Weapon” marathon with his tent-mates.

Spc. Chuck Sexton, another 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery, member who fuels vehicles at Gamberi, was more vague about his Christmas plans. He arrived at the FOB three weeks ago, and Christmas Day will be his first day off since.

It’s Sexton’s first deployment. Normally, he said, he loves the feel of the holiday season, but “it’s just another day out here.”

It’s not entirely without benefits though. In addition to relaxing on Christmas Day, Sexton said, he’s particularly pleased with one item from care packages the unit has received: mouthwash.

“I was excited about that, because the PX doesn’t sell mouthwash,” he added.

Sgt. Nasiyah Wilson is no stranger to holidays away from home. This year is her third time spending Christmas on a deployment. Her two sons will spend Christmas Day at her neighbor’s house in Fort Polk, La.

At least this time, she said, she had Internet access to make Christmas shopping easy. On her first deployment in Taji, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005, soldiers would wait in line for hours to do that.

While she hopes to catch up on future holidays at home, Wilson said she’s looking forward to spending this Christmas with her unit.

“(It’s) a little home away from home,” she said.


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