KUWAIT – Soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade leaned on each other and used their creativity to get through the holiday season half a world away from their families and loved ones.
They are deployed to the Middle East, supporting the fight against Daesh and maintaining a U.S. military posture in southwest Asia. The 28th ECAB commander, Col. Howard Lloyd, says the brigade’s mission in the Middle East perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the season.
“One of the things I find comforting is our whole mission, why we are here,” said Lloyd. “We joined our coalition partners in creating an environment conducive to everlasting peace and prosperity through the region.”
From the fixed-wing unit in Kuwait and the attack battalion in the north, to attached units from the Italian and Spanish armies, Lloyd says 28th ECAB Soldiers are exceeding all expectations in that mission. But he understands the separation from loved ones makes for an especially tough season for Soldiers and families. While some enjoyed the festive atmosphere, many missed being together with their loved ones and just tried to get through the holidays.
At home, the 28th ECAB rear detachment, family readiness group and Pennsylvania National Guard State Family Program Office put on a Park & Presents event in early December in various Pennsylvania cities. Families enjoyed a drive-through visit with Santa Claus and received a bag of toys.
Abroad, some units put on holiday parties and events for their Soldiers with a cookout and movies. Soldiers decorated their workspaces, in one case using a wooden pallet to form a Christmas tree. Dining facilities served a special meal on Christmas Day.
“We did have to work that day, but it didn’t stop us from having a good Christmas,” said Spc. Mariliz Serrano, a petroleum supply specialist serving in Iraq with Echo Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion. “We don’t normally have time to do anything outside of our shifts, so talking to our families, taking pictures and the holiday lunch really made us happy. At the same time, it was a little hard, simply because everyone at home was together and it just makes me sad knowing I am not there with my family enjoying the holidays. It made me miss them a lot.”
It was common for Soldiers to wake up around 2 a.m. local time to call their families during Christmas Eve parties back in the states. Many enjoyed video chatting later in the afternoon to watch their children open presents during the morning hours at home.
Sgt. Caitlin Reinard, a medic serving in Syria with Charlie Company, 2-104th GSAB, appreciated the camaraderie and spending Christmas with her fellow Soldiers, despite some hardship.
“We watched Christmas movies, played corn hole and rugby. 1st Lt. [Xiomara] Espinosa made us paper stockings and put in morale patches that reminded her of us individually,” she said. “... Also since the mail stopped, we didn’t get our Christmas packages from home, so that bummed us all out. But at the end of the day, we had each other.”
Lloyd acknowledged the mail delays but appreciated the kindness of so many people and organizations.
“The care packages we are receiving from home from loved ones, churches and agencies around the United States are overwhelming,” said Lloyd.
The 28th ECAB deployed to the Middle East in the summer to conduct combat operations and provide military support to civilian authorities. Members are to return home in late spring of 2021.