Celebrating Christmas in Kabul

Afghanistan column - Jan 30 pic 1 rememrbance service with soldiers
Afghanistan column - Jan 30 pic 1 rememrbance service with soldiers

This week, The Southern’s Afghanistan columnist, Union Jack, recounts how remembrance services helped forge closer links between troops.

Having started with ISAF Joint Command (IJC) at the beginning of November, one of my first tasks was to acquire a poppy.

Afghanistan column - Jan 30. Cross rifles and wreaths

Afghanistan column - Jan 30. Cross rifles and wreaths

The second was to explain the significance of it to colleagues from other nations.

But in a generous show of solidarity, it wasn’t long before soldiers and airmen of many of these nations were sporting them on their uniforms.

On the morning of the 11th, we had a simple but moving ceremony paying tribute to the 3,361 international coalition casualties killed in Afghanistan between 2001 and November 11, 2013.

Of these, 2,260 were Americans, 446 British, 158 Canadians and the remainder from 26 other countries as diverse as South Korea, Jordan, New Zealand and France.

Having remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nations, November also sees the US hold Thanksgiving celebrations.

Although I have previously experienced the US enthusiasm for Thanksgiving, I was still rather surprised to find the US dining facility, (DFAC, pronounced ‘deefac’ by troops across Afghanistan), fully decorated with giant polystyrene models of a church and a replica ‘Mayflower’ ship.

The food was pretty spectacular, too, and with so much to squeeze onto one’s plate, the subsequent slow progression down the serving line meant the queue was out the door and alongside the building.

We had hardly digested Thanksgiving when the Christmas parcels started to arrive.

Personally, I was very 
fortunate to be well looked after by family, friends and relations.

However, thanks to the organisation of our US Army master sergeant and the US Boxes for Troops campaign, our team of 15 also received half-a-dozen boxes of goodies from well-wishing Americans each week in the run-up to December 25.

Christmas away from your family is never easy, especially when there are young children at home.

However, video calls and the ability to instantly email photographs helps to ease the distance and capture children’s excitement.

As is traditional for UK troops, all the officers served the soldiers their meal at reserved tables decorated with crackers and party hats.

Sadly, the season of goodwill didn’t extend to the insurgents and we continued to mourn the loss of Coalition and Afghan forces throughout the festive period, thinking especially of their families for whom Christmas will be forever associated with such tragic news.