Deployed Christmas: What the Grinch can’t steal

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rose Gudex
  • 406th Air Expeditionary Wing

 It came without snow. It came without ale. It came without family, time off or mail. And they pondered and pondered ‘till their ponderers were sore. Then the Airmen thought of something they hadn’t before. What if the holidays, they thought, don't come from the states? What if the holidays, perhaps, come from our deployment mates?

It’s no secret that deployment can bring many challenges, no matter someone’s job position, family status or experience. There is often an added level of stress for service members deployed during the holidays, and for those deployed to Air Base 201, this is especially true due to their austere environment.

To combat the holiday woes for base members, the mental health team assigned to the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron here has been spreading some cheer as well as good advice to the different units at AB 201.

“Some of the biggest challenges people might face out here is knowing what you’re missing,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Dixon, 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron mental health provider. “Around the holidays people might watch certain movies, listen to certain music, do certain things, and it can be disheartening when that is taken away.”

In the age of technology, service members are equipped with tools like never before that can either help or hinder while operating down range.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rylee Phillips, 724th EABS medical flight chief and mental health technician, said social media can be a blessing and a curse while thousands of miles away from family. While Airmen can video chat or call loved ones to still feel included, social media also often shows friends and family carrying on holiday rituals or joining together for group activities in their absence.

Even though people are separated from their families, Phillips said individuals should lean in to make the holiday season stand out more by getting to know the teammates to their left and right and creating new traditions or memories.

It doesn’t need to be complicated to be memorable, she said. Some people might think a new tradition needs to be a grand, magical event often seen in holiday movies, but sometimes simplicity is best.

“I use that quote from the Grinch about not having all the ribbons and packages,” Dixon added. “Christmas is here, and we don’t have all that, but maybe we don’t need it.”

A holiday season with less can help people focus on relationships and not "stuff."

Many units across the installation are holding team dinners or movie nights together, while others are planning holiday workouts and hikes.

Dixon and Phillips said this sort of camaraderie doesn’t need to – and shouldn’t be – limited to the holidays.

Instead, the mental health duo encouraged deployed teams to continue dinners, board game nights or other group activities throughout the deployment to ensure both the mission and people are taken care of.

“Each unit we go to has a different personality,” Dixon said. “We have a board game date with the [quick reaction force], so we’re going to teach them how to play Settlers of Catan!”

While the mental health team is always available to talk, they said mental health or fun events don’t have to be formal or come from a professional.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Gold, 41st Electromagnetic Warfare Combat Detachment commander, emphasized that point during a recent “Jail or Bail” event held by a private organization on base. Members of AB 201 could pay to have someone else “arrested” by Santa for offenses such as “smiling too much” or “having a sick fade.”

Someone called for Gold’s arrest, and a warrant was issued for “talking too much at the chow hall.” However, he used the subsequent pursuit as an opportunity for a little holiday tomfoolery. Gold repeatedly evaded Saint Nick and updated a base-wide group chat every time he avoided capture, directly challenging the defenders of the 409th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron.

“Can the USAF’s most lethal and capable defenders find me?” he texted. “Will friends and allies give me safe haven? Hmmmm?”

The friendly taunts continued from defenders and commanders alike adding to the chat about ‘traps' they set with ice cream to lure Gold (who is a known ice cream enthusiast) into the open. Gold’s retorts back included clues about his location and how void it was of any defenders or elves.

Despite the banter, defenders finally apprehended the jester, but not before some fun and laughter across the installation, including plenty of ‘reactions’ to messages in the group chat.

“People were being creative, which was good for morale and people’s mental health to be engaged like that,” Dixon said.

Though short-lived, the engagement was only a small example of the unit cohesion that battles the holiday blues. Whether a friendly teasing between units, fiercely competitive board game night or team dinners, those deployed to AB 201 are finding ways to keep spirits high. It may not be a holiday at home, but it’s a way to feel a little bit at home during the holidays.