A Tough Call

Blog by SGM Matt Smith

This is the time of year when our thoughts turn towards the ones we love the most.

I love all the holidays, but Christmas is my favorite. Like most folks, it takes me back to my childhood and the carefree days before the worries of adulthood. I love the songs, the lights, and I friggin’ love eggnog. I mean, c’mon, it’s basically just melted ice cream with liquor in it. What could be better than that?

More and more I see messages on social media saying to “Remember the Troops” during the holidays. It’s in these times of extended operations (that don’t always make the news) that we need to think of them the most.

I can tell you from the perspective of a deployed fighting man, you are all-consumed with the day-to-day operations on the ground. You don’t often get the luxury of stopping what you’re doing to celebrate holidays. Every minute you get to yourself is precious and it’s spent thinking of your family and trying to connect with them. It’s hard to fight when you know that back home Americans are settling down for time off with their loved ones and you and your family could not feel more alone on separate ends of the Earth. In these times you really have to turn towards your teammates for support. But even your teammates can’t provide everything and you know a part of you will just have to remain unfulfilled during a time meant for fulfillment.

Fortunately, it has become easier for our troops to connect through internet access and cell networking. I remember the days of my first deployment when we had to write letters home on the empty boxes from MREs. I still have a birthday card that I drew with markers on an MRE box and sent home for my son’s 1st Birthday. My wife cherishes it.

My good friend and teammate once made a joke that all our family pictures for the last six years had something in common.

“What’s that Brother?” I asked. “We ain’t in ‘em.”

There was roaring laughter, followed by an awkward smile, and finally minutes of silence. But luckily it has become easier for troops to connect, share pictures, and see their loved ones. I have been around long enough to remember letter writing and I was around when we first got internet access while deployed. Unfortunately, it can make things even harder when you can see and hear all the things that are happening without you.

In December of 2003, I spent Christmas in Baghdad. It could not have felt less Christmassy. I was not able to talk to my family for Christmas but I did share an email message with them. It was hardly a warm way to spend the holiday and we were knee-deep in missions. Days later we stepped out on a late-night raid to snatch one of a long list of bad guys from some evil lair in the city. At least there was a little snow falling (it immediately turned to mud as it contacted the ground). We arrived on target with a split team of six US Special Operators and a company of Iraqi Commandos.

Everything was going as planned. While extracting from the target a firefight broke out. Several were hit - the Iraqi Commander, Platoon Leader, our interpreter, and the dashingly handsome medic (none other than myself). It was chaotic but our team prevailed. I count myself lucky that neither I nor any of my counterparts lost a limb or their lives that night. There are many other combat stories that don’t end this way.

The following morning I was recovering in a tent on a forward operating base. My injuries were minor compared to some of the others. A single bullet had ricocheted off a wall, split into four fragments, and hit me in the left knee. I barely remember it happening but the next morning it felt like someone had hit me in the knee with a ball-peen hammer. Adrenaline is a cruel bitch; she got me through the night but left me hurtin’ the next morning. The hardest part was yet to come. I requested to be the one who made the call to my Wife.

Instead of “How was Christmas?” or “Did my son like his gifts?” the conversation started out, “Baby, are you sitting down?”

I had not spoken to my wife since before Christmas. Now the conversation would be about the wound I received, on a mission she didn’t know about, in a place that no one knows about, in a war that no news agency reports about, and at a time that was meant for us to be close together. We could not have been further apart.

My story is not unique.

It happens nearly every day. Somewhere, someone is making this call to his or her spouse, or worse yet, they are unable to. It is just a reminder of why we need to remember our troops during these holidays. Fighting for this nation means you don’t get a break for one second of the year. Those that would do us harm are waiting for the minute we let our guard down. Because of that, good women and men have volunteered to watch over us as we enjoy Christmas, New Years, and all the other holidays we love to spend with our families.

Please take a moment to think of the picture that is being taken without a special someone in it. That special someone and their family deserves your thanks.

To all my Brothers and Sisters serving this nation somewhere far away this Holiday Season; I will drink an eggnog for you (probably a few).

I sincerely appreciate everything you and your families do.

1 Response

Eric, RN

Eric, RN

January 06, 2020

I am sure I speak on behalf of many Americans and Veterans, when I say that I know simply saying thank you is not enough. Your letter has touched thousands of readers, family members, and friends. As a nurse working with military personnel, and as a Navy Veteran, I hear and feel every word you have expressed. Thank you my brother and please thank your family, brothers and sisters that are there along there with you. Without all of you, we would not be a free nation, being able to enjoy our freedoms. 🇺🇸

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