Our Christmas Guardians


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Each year at Christmas, we remember our troops, far from home, standing be tween us and the latest Herods out to slaughter the innocents.

As a former soldier, my thoughts are with the “ground pounders” out there, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Fort Hood, Texas. The challenges they face are immeasurably greater than those we faced in the black-boot, Cold War Army.

But we all have our special memories. I recall Christmases in the 1st Battalion of the 46th Infantry, in Germany, three decades ago. Our Army was far poorer then, without the lavish support we provide today.

We made the best of things. For the battalion cooks, Christmas was a huge event, when the mess hall (no real soldier called it a “dining facility”) was decorated with scrounged odds and ends. The oft-derided “spoons” put in plenty of extra hours to provide a meal that at least hinted of home.

The NCOs and their families made the day, though. A married platoon sergeant or squad leader would have his soldiers over to his quarters, where they’d gladly devour a second Christmas dinner. Pay was low back then, but the sense of brotherhood was high.

Still, it could be a terribly lonely time for a young soldier. And somebody still had to pull guard duty out on the ranges or by the ammo bunkers. A lieutenant, I made the rounds in a vintage Jeep, hauling cocoa and cookies from the mess hall for soldiers pulling shifts in the snow. Master Sgt. Pomeroy, my NCOIC, usually got there before me.

The point wasn’t the lukewarm cocoa poured into a cardboard cup but the sense that, whatever stock resentments crossed the ranks, we were all American soldiers and in it together. 1-46 was a tough outfit, but we all softened on Christmas.

Today, our troops serve under far more dangerous and demanding conditions than we did during those Cold War years of scrounging spare parts and training ammo. Their enemies are immediate and deadly, not just the stuff of intelligence estimates. The world is meaner now.

So here’s an inadequate Christmas thank-you to all who wear our nation’s uniform today. They’ll take care of each other out there at the back of beyond. Soldiers do. But let’s spread our gratitude a bit wider this year. Nowadays, our splendid troops get the support they deserve from their fellow citizens. But many others will serve and protect us on Christmas day — closer to home.

Spare a holiday wish for the Coast Guard, the service that does more with less than any other. The Coasties will be on duty on the icy winter waters. And the undermanned Border Patrol will be out there on another kind of front line, in the high desert of Arizona and along the St. Lawrence. National Park and Forest Service Rangers will experience their silent nights in the wilderness.

And it’s not just the feds who pull Christmas duty while the rest of us celebrate. Your state and local police will be out there, God bless ’em. Your fire department has to be ready on Christmas. And, sadly, emergency medical personnel can always count on a busy day on Dec. 25.

Then there are the admirable Americans (of various faiths) who volunteer their time or even dedicate their lives to those less fortunate. They’ll feed the hungry and shelter the homeless today, serving on a human front line that runs through all our lives.

My father, a rough-hewn, two-fisted man who’d seen life’s ups and downs, claimed that the Salvation Army was the best army ever fielded. They’ll be “on duty” today, living the authentic meaning of Christmas.

So from those of us fortunate enough to have no greater worry than getting the right proportion of whisky in the eggnog . . . here’s a heartfelt Christmas thanks to all those Americans, here and abroad, who will sacrifice their day for a greater good.

And to those Post readers who celebrate this holiday, a very merry Christmas! ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters new novel, “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. He is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His most recent book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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