Sunday, December 12, 2010

In a season of firsts, I celebrate my first Hanukkah in Iraq

One of the ways the military gets you through your deployment is by keeping you very busy. They have to keep you busy because if you had idle time that might create mischief and of course that's the last thing you want to have because it would divert you from your mission.

The week is organized so that all the days blend into each other and there really is no difference between the weekdays and very little difference between the weekdays and the weekend. In fact all the military offices are open 7 days a week. I recognize that I may of lost you there but even though this is considered a war zone we do have different offices. For example, we have a base post office which is run by both containers and US Postal workers who come here as civilians and soldiers go there to mail packages etc and the post office is open 7:30am - 5:30pm 7 days/week. We also have a finance office where you go if your having problems with your pay and they are also open 7 days a week. Your pay is deposited directly in a bank and you're given a swipe card called an Eagle Cash Card. You swipe it and that will transfer some money to the swipe card and when you buy something at the PX, which is also open 7 days a week, you pay for it with this swipe card.

So you never see a check and you never see a pay stub. How do you even know if you're getting paid? You go on line and you see your virtual pay stub. The combat zone is completely digitalized and couldn't function without computers.

Holidays and religious observance is different. We do celebrate holidays and we are encouraged to celebrate our religious holidays but observances are secondary to security concerns. All enlisted soldiers are issued an automatic weapon and the officers are issued handguns which never leaves your side. My patients come to see me carrying their weapons and I'm wearing my holster and a revolver. We also carry our weapons during recreational activities and into the chapel. In these pictures the enlisted soldiers have put down their automatic weapons nearby for the picture but the officers are wearing their sidearms.

The army does want us to celebrate our national and cultural holidays and they want us to celebrate our religious holidays including the Sabbath but everything, including all observances are secondary to security. The base and the mission are functioning 24/7 and you wouldn't dream of asking for time off for any type of holiday because obviously security and the mission trumps everything else. Additionally, everything you do is primarily for the other soldier, your buddy, your unit and the whole mission. Therefore you simply would never want time off to celebrate something for yourself because that would mean that you're putting others at risk which is far worse than putting yourself at risk which is already bad enough.

Our holidays will not be remembered as having the best tasting food or having our favorite delicacies. We're not celebrating reunions with friends and family and the best we could hope for was perhaps a brief phone call or possibly a video connection through this technological marvel called skype. As you can see from these pictures I did get to celebrate Hanukkah at base and it meant a lot.

I certainly didn't get to light candles every night and we didn't get to linger around a table consuming latkes (potato pancakes) and other delicacies. I was with my troop that I'm with 7 days/week and I had to do a lot of improvisation with the holiday delicacies that my family, especially my wife Joan, had sent me.

On the other hand I got to intoduce this holiday to soldiers who had never seen a Menorah lighting before and who were intently interested and were thrilled to participate. It was squeezed into our schedule and everybody eagerly participated, and then it was back to work. I'm very grateful that I was able to get some type of a picture because we had a lot to do. If you look closely you should be able to see a small lit menorah but the real story are the faces and the expressions of the other soldiers which are realy what's important.


gagnej said...

Thinking of you and the troops this holiday season. Stay well and safe.
Jill Gagne and the Elms family

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