By Hannah Garner
Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays of the year. All across the world people decorate Christmas trees, hang lights and stockings, bake cookies, wrap presents and sing carols.
For those men and women deployed for Christmas, they are left to come up with their own ways of celebrating. Although these men and women are still able to celebrate Christmas with each other, nothing replaces being able to celebrate Christmas with friends and family back home.
Many military men and women have friends and family who regularly send them letters, care packages and other gifts, but some may not have friends or family that send them anything. Around the holidays this is especially hard and may leave soldiers feeling alone.
Robin Stears, who served in the U.S. Army from 1978-1984, spent many Christmases deployed and away from friends and family.
“The first time was pretty depressing, but the Army tried very hard to make sure holidays were at least tolerable,” Stears said. “We all loved getting letters and cards from school children. They used to write the best messages.”
Stears recalls one card her friend received that she stills laughs about today. The card read, “Have a nice war. Don’t get killed.” Stears said they “screamed laughing” after reading it.
“The innocence and honesty of those letters and cards were the best remedy for being away from home during the holidays. They drew pictures of their pets, and we tried to figure out what kind of animal their pet was because we truly couldn’t tell from the drawing. We passed them around and we hung the best ones up in the hallways of the barracks,” Stears said.
This Christmas, Jordan Polichena, a criminal justice major at Youngstown State University, will experience her first Christmas without her brother.
“Holidays are difficult, he was deployed for Thanksgiving and this will be his first Christmas,” Polichena said.
She added she and her family often try to FaceTime her brother as a way to include him in family activities.
“Sometimes they get homesick and this helps them to adjust,” Polichena said.
Around Christmas time, many schools will have children make Christmas cards to send to deployed soldiers. This small gesture may not seem like much to some, but the impact it has on soldiers is tremendous.
In 2012, Ann Johnson founded a non-profit organization called Adopt A US Soldier. The organization connects civilians with deployed soldiers and provides them with a support system they otherwise may not have.
Participating civilians get to decide what level of support they provide their soldier. Support can range from weekly letters to monthly packages.
Luke Jackman, who served in the U.S. Navy for two years, was “adopted” through the Adopt A U.S. Soldier program and received numerous letters and care packages from someone whom he’d previously never met.
“The amount of support I received was truly heartwarming,” Jackman said. “This person, who I didn’t even know, showed me more gratitude than my family did.”
He described receiving things like homemade cookies and other snacks, to warm socks and clothing.
“I didn’t know how to thank a complete stranger, I still don’t know how,” he said. “It’s something I will always be grateful for.”
Since being honorably discharged from the Navy, Jackman says he now participates in the Adopt A US Soldier program as a way to give back.
“It’s something I do to show my appreciation. It’s not huge, but it’s something to show these men and women that their are people who think about them and are thankful,” Jackman said.
There are many ways to get involved and support those who sacrifice everything for the safety of others, Adopt A US Soldier is just one example.
If you would like more information about the program or would like to adopt a soldier, you can visit their website at www.adoptaussoldier.org.
“Any amount of support means everything to a deployed soldier,” Jackman said.