When Christmas came, I was five months into my first deployment, and thousands of miles from home. I woke before dawn, not to the sound of children's laughter or the rustle of presents being opened, but the squawk of my radio. I quickly got dressed and headed to the Command Operations Center. It was cold out, and a heavy frost crunched beneath my boots. Just above the horizon, a full moon glistened like a boiled egg. This sure doesn't feel like Christmas, I thought.

A few hours later, I met with my Marines around a large, homemade conference table to go over the plan. Our mission was to provide security while the Iraqi soldiers constructed a vehicle checkpoint. The Marines listened patiently as we quickly reviewed our procedures. The mood was far from festive. Everyone seemed a little homesick, and no one was particularly keen on getting shot at on Christmas.

When we reached the construction site, we quickly established security and settled in for a long, cold day. To my surprise, one of my Marines had brought along a Santa Claus hat and had secretly stapled it to his helmet. Immediately, I thought of ten reasons why his hat was a bad idea. Feeling every bit the Grinch, I headed over to his position, wondering whether to blame the local sniper or Marine protocol for my lack of Christmas spirit.

Rounding the corner, I was greeted by the sound of children laughing. A small Iraqi boy squirted past, the red Santa hat dancing on his head. "Here you go, Sir," my Marine called out, as he handed me a small, steaming cup of Iraqi chai. "What's this?" I said.
"A Christmas present from our Iraqi friends."

About the Contributor

Jason Moore is the Director of Youth at First Presbyterian Spartanburg. Before he joined us he spent nine years as an active duty Marine and was deployed both to Iraq and Afganistan. He and his wife Melanie have two children, Claire and Benjamin.