09 October 2011


As with most homes, the heart of our house is the kitchen.  On the single most high traffic area of the house, the fridge, smack dab in the middle, my mom has placed this quote, 

When I speak of home, I speak of the place where – in default of a better – those I love are gathered together; and if that place were a gypsy’s tent, or a barn, I should call it but the same good name notwithstanding. – Charles Dickens

I am currently 7,180 miles, 1 ocean, a couple continents, and 8 ½ hours of time zones away from home.  Most days I don’t dwell on that fact or even give it more than a moment’s reflection, but during the holidays that distance because a nagging throb in the forefront of my head that chants, “You’re missing out on everything. You miss home.  Your family misses you.  What are you doing?”

Last Christmas I considered trying to forget it was an event all together.  I thought if I skipped Christmas I could skip the homesickness.  Well, life doesn’t work like that.  (You can read the full story of how that worked out here.) As I tried to conjure up ways to make myself feel better it finally hit me that the other 25,000 people on this base are feeling the exact same way.  There’s no excuse of ‘no one understands me,’ because get this, every one does.  We are all missing our family traditions: Midnight Mass, getting to search through our stockings but nothing else until our parents wake up on Christmas morning, Dad always joking that we have to eat breakfast first before present opening and us kids begging him no, Christmas day gift exchange with the cousins, watching White Christmas and singing the ‘Sisters, Sisters’ song with my sister, and the sight, smell, and silence of a perfect winter snow.

The thought that got me through it all was simple, my family supports me so I can support them.  From the outpouring of love in e-mails, cards, care packages, phone calls, Skype dates and more I have my spirit renewed and my hope strengthened. 

Last year we asked friends, families, churches, community organizations and anyone else we could think of to send care package items to us so we could make gifts for our troops.  We received enough to give a present to every Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman that walked through our center doors on Christmas Day.

My own parish sent numerous boxes of items including a homemade fruit cake!  My aunt sent packages with a note that said she always donates to a charity instead of giving her adult daughters Christmas presents, and this year she was sending care packages to our troops.  I couldn’t help but swell with pride knowing that my family and friends made Christmas happen out here.

No experience can match the feeling I had after handing a troop a bag and watching their face light up and, “For reals?  This is for me?!” come out of their mouth.  It meant so much to them to receive the gift not just from USO Kandahar, but from the American people.  It might have been just a small gesture, but it sent a huge comforting message to the troops that they weren’t forgotten.  People still care.  Just like school children at lunch, most of them sat down and immediately began trading Slim Jims for candy canes and hand sanitizer for razors.

This year we want to do the same, only better!  This is where we need help.  We need gifts from people back home to fill the bags.  I have posted the flyer below with our mailing address and wish list.

This Christmas I will again be thousands of miles from the place I call home.  I will be in a large tent, in the middle of a desert, surrounding by dirt, dust and the constant threat of violence.  But it is there that people will be gathered, they might not be my loved ones, but they are somebody's.  So here we will gather in our home away from home, “Until Every One Comes Home.”

My One Year Anniversary

September 11, 2011 marked my one year anniversary working for the USO. 

10 years ago changed my life in ways I never saw possible.  I was a scared shitless 16 year old who thought the world was crashing down around me.  Now here I am 10 years later, 26 years old, confident in a world that literally is crashing down around me.

The horrendous acts on September 11th sent my generation, some my friends, to war.  In a roundabout way September 11th also sent me to a warzone.

My coworker Sarah York set up a table in our center with a board for anyone to write a message to remember the lives lost on September 11th and in OIF and OEF.  She set out tea lights so they could light a candle in memoriam.  It touched my heart as I watched a Marine pilot walk over and look at the lit table with curiosity, then realize it’s purpose, and take the few moments to light a candle and then bow his head for a couple precious seconds afterward in prayer.

Also on September 11th Outback Steakhouse came to Kandahar and cooked their food in the DFACs.  It was AMAZING!  We had the most delicious steak I have had in a year, spinach artichoke dip with FRESH bread, and cheesecake that I almost had to fight a dude over to get the last piece.  Randy, York and I all agreed that Outback made the meal especially for our anniversary dinner. 

Upon returning to the center, Randy, York and I wanted to get a picture to commemorate our year, no sooner had Richard our boss taken the snapshot than the rocket alarm siren blared.  We fell to the floor and laid flat on our bellies.  I guess the Taliban wanted to celebrate our anniversary as well.

When we cleared the center, York and I blew out all the memorial candles because we had no idea how long we would be in the bunker. After the “all clear” siren, we re-entered the center and began tidying up.  I started to throw away the old candles, and York said, “Stop, each of those were a prayer too.”  So in complete silence York and soon Erin joined to relight every candle.  We filled the table with candles all suddenly much more aware that even though September 11th was 10 years ago and we’ll never forget that date, every single day lives are still being sacrificed.
The tealight memorial with lit and burnt out candles