Font Size » + | -By Terry Meek That magical time of year is once again fast approaching – a time that causes the heart and the imagination to race with expectation. Every child who penciled a list of presents she or he would like to find under the Christmas tree knows exactly what I am talking about. Sure, birthdays are nice, but Christmas is grander, replete with searching for hidden gifts, shaking presents when no one is around, and trying to gain a sneak preview of the unknown. The day to open presents cannot come fast enough. For some though, there are no trees or prospects of presents under the tree because they’re thousands of miles away from home and loved ones. I am of course referring to America’s service members deployed throughout the world in order for us to remain free and to maintain a nearly seamless lifestyle. These warriors, men and women alike, bear the burden of freedom by sacrificing their holidays so that we might enjoy ours and all the fruits of liberty. Chaplain Meek flying to an outpost in Iraq with a civilian whose group donated a new Jeep to a lucky soldier for Christmas.I remember my third or fourth deployment, which was to Iraq for the second time. Christmas was fast approaching and my staff had just finished putting up the Walmart three-foot “Christmas-tree-in-a-box” – lights and decorations included. We plugged it in and voila – instant Christmas! That night after the staff left and the lights were dimmer, I plugged in the tree and stared at the twinkling of lights. As I watched, I journeyed in my mind to Christmases past. I recalled a trip to the Sinai desert where we had nearly 700 soldiers deployed. Our mission was to keep the peace protocols between Israel and Egypt. We had soldiers covering over 2,500 square miles of desert at small, forward-deployed operation posts. There was nothing but swirling sand, oppressive dry heat, driving winds that penetrated the skin, and hills that looked as if a great painter had taken several brushes and pulled them across a hilly canvas creating undulating stripes of various deep shades of brown across the backdrop of light brown hills. Situated in the same place where Moses was handed the Ten Commandments, the scene was serene and beautiful. Yet for the soldiers of the 1/187th Infantry Battalion from Fort Campbell, Kentucky’s 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), it was isolating and lonely. Christmas was just two months away when my battalion commander called me in and said, “Chaplain, Christmas is around the corner, and I want someone to distribute presents and trees to all our fourteen outposts. We need some Christmas cheer.” My mind raced. Where would these gifts come from? How would I get enough? And who would have the connections to do this? My thought process was immediately jarred when I heard the words thunder from the commander’s voice: “You’re the one I want to do it. I can’t think of anyone better suited for this than the chaplain – everything Christmas represents.” Can you as individuals or a church or a small group make a difference? You sure can! Several organizations exist exclusively to make sure our service members are not forgotten…. About a week later I received a call from the Director of Athletics, who informed me that gifts, Christmas trees, and food had arrived, and he needed me to distribute them. I went to the gym, where “what to my wondering eyes should appear” but hundreds of gifts, Christmas trees fresh from Israel, and food and games sent from folks back in the United States! I gathered some soldiers together and devised a plan to break everything down into fourteen sections. I already had buckets, so we filled them with sand (which was plentiful) and “magically” the trees stood tall! I realized something was missing – we had no lights or decorations. So off I went to our small post exchange located directly across the street from our little chapel. I went inside and explained my dilemma to the manager. He directed me to a section with lights and decorations. I had a little money, so I purchased one set of lights and decorations for each outpost. Later that weekend I got another group of soldiers to help me decorate the mess hall. Tinsel, ribbons, and the like were plastered on every wall. We may have been 7,500 miles from home, but we still had Christmas. Service members in every branch of the military need to be remembered at Christmas, a time that can feel especially lonely to soldiers deployed around the world. As I returned from my mental rendezvous with Christmases past, the lights in the room where I was sitting switched on and the morning shift entered the building. A couple of hours later, the mail began to arrive. Box after box was being dropped off to the chaplain’s section. My staff opened each box and lo and behold, Christmas presents! People from all over the United States sent boxes of candy, games, and toiletries (much needed by soldiers). Within minutes a huge crowd had gathered around the chaplain’s section as soldiers sifted through boxes looking for their favorite candy or something they needed. Once again we knew we were not forgotten. Somehow being so far away from home drew us a little closer to our childhood memories and reminded us of what Christmas was all about. Average Americans from all walks of life sent donations to ensure that our freedom fighters were remembered. Can you as individuals or a church or a small group make a difference? You sure can! Several organizations exist exclusively to make sure our service members are not forgotten and feel the love and appreciation of us back at home. You need to act quickly because Christmas is nearer than you think. Listed below are some of my favorite sites that show what items are needed and where to send the donations. Help our men and women in uniform who are away from family and friends enjoy Christmas. Let them know they are not forgotten and that you appreciate all they do for us. For more information, go to: Operation Care Packages Support Our Troops with Care Packages What to Send How to Find Units About the Author: Chaplain (COL) Robert Terry Meek (Ret), shown here with Leslee, his wife, is the National Director of Open Bible Chaplain Ministries.