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Marine Corp. Ted Lachance hugs Santa Claus, played by Maj. Mike Riddle. Members of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in Kuwait received gifts donated by an American couple's program called Operation Christmas Basket.

Marine Corp. Ted Lachance hugs Santa Claus, played by Maj. Mike Riddle. Members of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in Kuwait received gifts donated by an American couple's program called Operation Christmas Basket. (Marni McEntee / Stars & Stripes)

Marine Corp. Ted Lachance hugs Santa Claus, played by Maj. Mike Riddle. Members of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in Kuwait received gifts donated by an American couple's program called Operation Christmas Basket.

Marine Corp. Ted Lachance hugs Santa Claus, played by Maj. Mike Riddle. Members of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in Kuwait received gifts donated by an American couple's program called Operation Christmas Basket. (Marni McEntee / Stars & Stripes)

Corp. Veronica Chambless opens a gift Christmas Eve as fellow I Marine Expeditionary Force members Lt. Col. Kirk Bruno, left, and Sgt. Maj. Rick Hines, watch.

Corp. Veronica Chambless opens a gift Christmas Eve as fellow I Marine Expeditionary Force members Lt. Col. Kirk Bruno, left, and Sgt. Maj. Rick Hines, watch. (Marni McEntee / Stars & Stripes)

Corp. Allison Benoit gets ready to unwrap a Christmas gift as fellow I Marine Expeditionary Force members look on at Commando Camp in Kuwait.

Corp. Allison Benoit gets ready to unwrap a Christmas gift as fellow I Marine Expeditionary Force members look on at Commando Camp in Kuwait. (Marni McEntee / Stars & Stripes)

COMMANDO CAMP, Kuwait — Marine Cpl. Ted Lachance wasn’t being formal. After some of his buddies shook Santa’s hand, he gave the man in red a hug.

“I needed one,” said Lachance, 21, an intelligence analyst from Paso Robles, Calif. The young Marine received a bag full of Christmas gifts along with a hearty embrace from Santa — as portrayed by Maj. Mike Riddle.

“Half of me wants to be here and half of me wants to be at home with my family,” Lachance said. “You kind of take it how it is.”

Lachance and other members of the I Marine Expeditionary Force celebrated Christmas a day early Tuesday. All received gift bags donated by Operation Christmas Basket, an American-led group that distributed 17,000 baskets to U.S. troops in Kuwait.

Later at the spartan base, Marines made the most of a holiday spent far from home. Some sang carols in the chilly night air; others attended a late-night candlelight service that lasted until Christmas morning.

I MEF commander Lt. Gen. James Conway gave the Marines Christmas Day off — a rarity in a 12-hour-workday world.

“We miss home. The holidays are always a family event,” said Master Sgt. Enrique Barroso of Marine Air Support Squadron 3. “But we have a mission and that’s what we’re here for.”

The several hundred Marines are part of the I MEF’s command element, sent to Kuwait in October and scheduled for an indefinite stay as part of the war against terrorism, said spokesman Capt. David Romley. They have carved a base camp out of the desert next to an active Kuwait army commando post not far from Kuwait City.

Marines live in unheated tents built on concrete slabs. The only toilet facilities are portable. Entertainment consists of a gymnasium pockmarked with bullet holes, a gravelly soccer field or the occasional game of hackey-sack. But many of these leathernecks marvel at the amenities: hot showers, three hot meals a day and a launderette.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t difficult to find some cheer in Santa’s presence and a nice gift.

“It brightened up my day,” said Cpl. Allison Benoit. “I was a little depressed, but for what we’re doing out here it’s not that bad.”

Benoit was counting the minutes until she could call her year-old daughter, Adrianna, who is staying with Benoit’s mother.

“I’d rather be home with my family, but as long as I know I’m making things safer for them I’m OK with it,” she said.


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