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A different kind of home for the holidays

A deployed holiday

Service members deployed to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), stand with a gator decked out for the holidays, Dec. 22, 2020, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The vehicle joined other decorated gators for a parade celebrating the holidays, a tradition that helps bring the spirit of the season to the desert. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristin Savage)

A deployed holiday

Service members deployed to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), stand with a gator decked out for the holidays, Dec. 22, 2020, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The vehicle joined other decorated gators for a parade celebrating the holidays, a tradition that helps bring the spirit of the season to the desert. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristin Savage)

 DJIBOUTI, AFRICA -- The holiday season looks very different this year for everyone. Family gatherings have been drastically scaled down, photos with Santa require masks and a six-foot distance, and some families may be spending the holidays mourning the loss of a loved one from the pandemic.

While the U.S. still navigates the challenges brought on bought by COVID-19, 7,000 miles away in Djibouti, Africa, service members are finding new and creative ways to make our holidays special.

Yet, despite our best efforts to make the environment more like home, the hard-packed sand and unforgiving heat from the sun serves as a constant reminder of how far away from home we really are.

I’m really proud of the work I’m doing here, but I’m still a little sad about not being home with my friends and family. Every year I’ve been fortunate enough to go back to my hometown and spend Christmas Eve with my family and attend service at my childhood church. I’ve always enjoyed the Christmas Eve service held and being able to sit with the people I grew up with as we all hold candles and sing Silent Night. 

This is my first deployment, my first time being away from home for the holidays—Thanksgiving was my first deployed holiday. The Acting Secretary of Defense visited to serve Thanksgiving dinner and sit with us. The galley made a special dinner and everyone was in a festive mood, but it still didn’t feel like a holiday to me. In fact, if no one told me what day it was, I wouldn’t have even known.

Being deployed for the holidays is tough. I miss my family, friends, co-workers and members of my church. I want to bake cookies and watch my niece and nephew open gifts then eat way too much at Christmas dinner! But I can’t this year, and that’s OK.

I’ve only been in the military for a few years, but I’ve found that I’m never truly alone. I’m surrounded by Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines who are all away from their families, some for a few months, and some for over a year … and all of them know the struggle. It somehow makes it easier to be away when you have a team of people by your side.  

We are proudly serving our country and the mission must continue. This holiday season I’m going to embrace the change and with the help of my military family, I have been able to make this place a different kind of home for the holidays.