“He too watches oer the night”
A tribute to the deployed military at Christmas
In 2000 I retired from the Navy with the rank of Captain. I served 26.5 years, 6.5 years of which was away from my family — including two Christmases. My experiences those two holiday seasons forever shaped my mindset about Christmas different from most people. I created this portrait and wrote this tribute to express my thoughts.
For the military member deployed overseas at Christmas -- away from family and friends at the holidays for the first time in their life – it is difficult. The song “I’ll be home for Christmas” becomes one of the worst to hear. This “grunt” in the field is cold, stinking, dirty and sweaty from three days on patrol and he’s yearning for a hot meal and a good night’s rest. Like many young military members deployed to a foreign land over the holidays, he graduated from high school this past two spring. The romanticism of the uniform was instantly erased when the first bullet zinged over his head. This lonely deployed Christmas is among the experiences that will prematurely turn this teenager into an adult.
On Christmas Eve this grunt and his patrol of less than a dozen fellow young soldiers, are shivering in their sleeping holes; he lays there, looking up at the night sky, the moon and glittering stars, and thinks about sharing the same night sky with loved ones on the other side of the world. A strong invisible bond forms between the grunt, the sky, the night and thoughts of his loved ones half a world away. The penetrating cold, stinking dirty sweat, lack of sleep and growling stomach will remain seared in his memory and return with each clear and cold Christmas Eve night sky.
Yet, he too watches o'er the night, as did a group of perhaps a dozen similar young stinking, dirty, shivering and hungry shepherds on that special night hundreds of years ago. The experience of those shepherds that blessed night became central to the greatest story ever told. The experience of this grunt, this Christmas, is central to our freedom to enjoy and tell again that blessed story for generations to come and preserve the freedoms of this, the greatest country on earth. God Bless our military men and women away from family and friends this Christmas.