This is the time of year over in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan and in other military outposts around the world when the men and women who serve in our armed forces overseas begin to really look forward to postal deliveries and packages from FedEx because they are likely to contain the early signs of Christmas. I know, because I was with an Infantry company in the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul at exactly this time of year twelve years ago. We were in a little company-size base camp on the edge of the Old City. Iraq had not yet descended into the violent chaos of a nationwide insurgency that would happen in the years to come, but it was a very dangerous place. The division was reporting about forty IED attacks or attempts every day. The battalion had just held a memorial service for a corporal and sergeant major who had been killed only days before.
It was a war zone. Then one afternoon the executive officer returned to the company in a small convoy from brigade headquarters carrying the mail. Practically everybody showed up as letters and packages were distributed. There were whoops and hollers as guys brandished letters from wives and girlfriends, and several guys fell upon several large FedEx boxes, cutting them open with knives. The whole crowd turned at once as one of the guys pulled a kit for a fake Christmas tree from one of the boxes. I watched as these tough battle-hardened soldiers turned into the boys and young men they truly were — 18, 19, 20, 23 years old — and began assembling the tree. It wasn’t more than three feet tall — it had to travel all the way to Mosul, Iraq, in a FedEx box, after all — but it may as well have towered over all of them as they got down on their hands and knees and carefully inserted the branches into the trunk and fluffed them out with their fingers to make them look right. They unwrapped some tree decorations and hung them and someone pulled a string of lights from the box and they strung them around the tree and plugged them in. Suddenly the lobby of a dreary former Iraqi social security office building was transformed. The spirit of Christmas was in the air.
I thought of that night in Mosul a week or so ago when a friend of mine from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who teaches at General George S. Patton Jr. Junior High School (from which I graduated in 1962) sent me an email and asked if I knew anyone who could help her out. She has a daughter serving in Afghanistan, and her daughter’s boyfriend is serving in Iraq. Recently she had heard from both of them about how disappointed they were that they were going to miss the big opening of the new Star Wars movie back in the States. Did I know of anyone who could help make sure they got to see Star Wars along with the rest of us on December 17? Well, I didn’t right then, but within a day or so I was in touch with Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, in the Office of Public Affairs at the Department of the Army, Colonel Michael Lawhorn, head of public affairs in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Lieutenant Colonel Raul Marquez, the public affairs officer for Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar. All three of them were eager to cooperate in any way that would treat the troops over there serving our nation to the excitement of seeing Star Wars at the same time they would be watching openings all over the U.S. reported on CNN and MSNBC.
It was surprisingly easy to reach the senior military officials, but I had a more difficult time reaching the directors of public relations and marketing for the Walt Disney Company, which owns and distributes the Star Wars movie. Finally I received a reply from “Global Communications The Walt Disney Studios” assuring me that they were “addressing the release of this film through our regular channels” to the military around the world. And recently I heard from my friend at Fort Leavenworth that her daughter in Afghanistan reports that they have been told they will get to see Star Wars in time for Christmas, on December 24.
This is very good news. Perhaps just before Christmas, we will see footage on the cable news networks of soldiers with M4 rifles slung over their shoulders lining up on gravel lots outside movie facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sailors lining up on aircraft carriers, and men and women of our Air Force lining up on dusty airbases, all of them waiting to see Star Wars, just like so many of us will have done. Being included in cultural events like the opening of the new Star Wars movie will go a long way to help hardened soldiers and sailors and airmen and -women become, if only for a few hours, the boys and girls and young men and women we sent over there to serve in our armed forces. It will tell them that, after nearly fifteen years of their service and the service of those before them, we still care.
Lucian K. Truscott IV is a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He began his writing career at the Village Voice in 1967 composing letters to the editor. His first published piece ran on the front page of the Voice in January of 1969 and he was a staff writer at the Voice for five years in the early 1970s. He is a graduate of West Point with a degree in civil engineering and comes from a long line of family members who have served in the armed forces. He has three children, currently lives in Sag Harbor, New York, and is writing an online memoir: www.dyingofabrokenheart.wordpress.com.