Christmas Cheer, Afghan-Style, For U.S. Troops

(AFP)

FOB TALIBJAN, Afghanistan — There will be no Christmas turkey and trimmings for US marines at Patrol Base Talibjan this year -- a chemically heated meal of preserved meat is all the infantry men expect.

The troops -- living in unheated tents in the Taliban heartland of Musa Qala district, in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province -- will climb out of their sleeping bags as usual, plan patrols and hope the day ends without casualties.

"I'm hoping it's going to be a quiet day and our guys can relax a little bit," says Staff Sergeant Josh McCall, 32, who will call his wife and children at home in rural North Carolina on Saturday.

"We've got our Christmas tree set up. We had a couple of presents -- I guess everybody got excited about them and opened them prior to Christmas -- but aside from that, I just hope it's a quiet day."

Small glimpses of Christmas decorate the humble surroundings. A plastic tree is decorated with baubles and fairy lights, large stockings hang empty on a wire wall and a Christmas star made from snack food tubes tops the tree.

Christmas mail was slow to arrive at this outpost on a remote, frozen plateau, but modern technology allows the marines to contact home briefly via the Internet and satellite phone.

The marines are accustomed to missing big family events during deployments -- Corporal Michael Parry, 23, celebrated the birth of his daughter last week with a can of high energy drink "Rip It" and a pack of fruit chews.

But Navy chaplain Father William Kennedy, who stays on a larger base in southern Helmand, says the lack of presents and austere environment can be a humble reminder of the Christian holiday's true meaning.

"Here we are, and there's a lot of dust and dirt out here and you take away a lot of the externals that people might have, a lot of the glitz, and it's a good time to be very simple and to say what is Christmas about."
AP