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Lt. Col. Jeffrey Feldman, commander of the 280th BSB based in Schweinfurt, leans over to talk to Spc. Michael Rutledge, left, and Sgt. Keyonta Oates, both of the 299th FSB, as the soldiers look through the gift bags given to them at Friday’s Christmas party.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Feldman, commander of the 280th BSB based in Schweinfurt, leans over to talk to Spc. Michael Rutledge, left, and Sgt. Keyonta Oates, both of the 299th FSB, as the soldiers look through the gift bags given to them at Friday’s Christmas party. (Kristen Chandler Toth / Courtesy of U.S. Army)
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Feldman, commander of the 280th BSB based in Schweinfurt, leans over to talk to Spc. Michael Rutledge, left, and Sgt. Keyonta Oates, both of the 299th FSB, as the soldiers look through the gift bags given to them at Friday’s Christmas party.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Feldman, commander of the 280th BSB based in Schweinfurt, leans over to talk to Spc. Michael Rutledge, left, and Sgt. Keyonta Oates, both of the 299th FSB, as the soldiers look through the gift bags given to them at Friday’s Christmas party. (Kristen Chandler Toth / Courtesy of U.S. Army)
Spc. Andrew Laughlin, 29, of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, plays with a toy at Friday's party in Schweinfurt, Germany, for soldiers injured in Iraq.
Spc. Andrew Laughlin, 29, of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, plays with a toy at Friday's party in Schweinfurt, Germany, for soldiers injured in Iraq. (Steve Liewer / S&S)
Spc. Steven Workman receives a stocking full of gifts donated by Billy Blanks from Santa (played by Sgt. 1st Class Will Egbers) while Sandra Hummel, who organized the event honoring wounded soldiers, looks on.
Spc. Steven Workman receives a stocking full of gifts donated by Billy Blanks from Santa (played by Sgt. 1st Class Will Egbers) while Sandra Hummel, who organized the event honoring wounded soldiers, looks on. (Kristen Chandler Toth / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Spc. Aleksei Pavlov figured he’d be spending Christmas at war, dodging mortars with his buddies at Camp Paliwoda between patrols in the dangerous neighborhoods around Balad, Iraq.

Then last month, an insurgent’s bullet caught him in the foot. Now Pavlov, 21, of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, is recovering from his wound at his unit’s home base in Schweinfurt.

Like dozens of 1st Infantry Division walking wounded, he is spending the holidays in limbo — far from his family in the United States, but also far from his friends at the front.

Santa Claus and the chaplains from the 280th Base Support Battalion brought some cheer to Pavlov and about 30 other injured soldiers from Schweinfurt at a holiday luncheon Friday morning at the Ledward Barracks chapel.

“This is definitely a morale-booster,” said Pavlov, who was born in Russia but moved with his family to Detroit more than a decade ago.

“This is a good experience, being here with your friends.”

“I feel comfortable because I’m home,” said Staff Sgt. Dennis Hendrickson, 36, of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, who suffered a serious neck injury while on a patrol last summer. “But I’m constantly thinking about the other guys — hoping nothing crazy happens.”

The troops feasted on German cheese and salami sandwiches and a decorated cake thick with icing. Santa gave each of the men a stocking loaded with CDs and T-shirts sent by Billy Blanks, the martial arts and hip-hop artist who has visited 1st ID troops in both Germany and Iraq.

Some women from family readiness groups serenaded them with Christmas carols. Sandra Hummel and Veda Church, two Schweinfurt-based Army wives who have worked hard to aid injured soldiers since the division deployed to Iraq last February, handed out handmade goodie bags filled with sweets and small toys.

“These guys are within a couple of years of my son,” said Church, who hosts frequent barbecues for injured troops in her husband’s unit, the 1-26 Infantry. “If I can be a mom to them, that’s what I want to do.”

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Keith Wright said the luncheon was organized in just a few days, after Hummel received a shipment of 145 gift-filled Christmas stockings from Blanks. She sent others to injured soldiers at Army hospitals in Würzburg, Landstuhl, and Washington, D.C.

“This is just a small way of saying ‘thank you’ for what you’ve done,” Wright told the soldiers. “You’ve done a tremendous thing for this nation.”

The soldiers clowned and grinned like kids. Some of them wrapped miniature “dog tags” carrying holiday messages around their foreheads and mugged for photographs.

“Stuff like this,” said Pfc. Daniel O’Neal, 19, of the 1-18 Infantry, as he munched on a sandwich, “almost makes me feel like I’m at home.”

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