Soldiers missing from home during holidays

by Carl Benskin

Freshman Aaron White has missed his birthday before. He’s missed Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, too.

The holiday season is usually a time when families get together, but for people like White, that isn’t always possible.

Simpson students, serving as soldiers in various branches of the military, must sometimes spend a season away from there loved ones, even during the holidays.

White, a Marine, has been deployed twice – once to Afghanistan where he missed his birthday and Fourth of July and the second time to Okinawa, Japan, where he missed Thanksgiving.

Keeping in contact is something White enjoys: while in Japan, he said staying in contact wasn’t that hard.

“I made phone calls when I could,” White said.

While in Afghanistan, White had to use other means of communication.

“In Afghanistan we mainly used letters,” White said. “I called home four times.”

He said it was difficult being away from friends, but receiving letters helped him.

“It’s nice to find out what is going on back home,” White said.

White said while he was in Japan the military had a Thanksgiving dinner. But making friends with other soldiers is what helped him the most.

“Hanging out with my buddies was a big factor,” White said. “You can relate to each other.”

He also liked receiving care packages from home.

“I got care packages from Mom,” White said. “I would take what I wanted, which was usually the Twizzlers, and then share with everyone else.”

Junior Megan Warner, a member of the National Guard, said her experience was also made easier by care packages from home.

“I think things soldiers really like is to get mail, have a good cooked meal – not MREs or other forms of preserved food – and to get them phone usage to call their families,” Warner said.

Sergeant Michelle Willenborg, a Simpson alum, agreed with White and Warner. Willenborg was deployed in North Carolina shortly after Sept. 11. She said it was rough at first – the first year she worked on Christmas Eve.

But that’s when she realized the importance of the holidays and their traditions, even when away from friends and family.

“[The soldiers] appreciate having something to open on Christmas,” Willenborg said. “All the days start to run together.”

White also said mail helped mark the passage of time while she was overseas.

“While you’re in Afghanistan, time stops, so when you receive magazines and newspapers you get to see what’s going on,” White said.

“From Home for the Holidays,” organized by the Multicultural Student Alliance and the College Republicans, is one project that allows Simpson students to reach out and help soldiers keep up with what’s going on at home.

Senior Kenna Stouwie, co-president of MSA, said this is personally important to her: she’s had family members serve in the military and she’s talked with them about how great it was to hear from home.

“During the holiday season, it is a time of extremely low morale for the troops,” Stouwie said. “[America’s soldiers] deserve our support and love.”

Also, it’s important to MSA because soldiers are a diverse, multicultural group of people.

Warner agreed the project is beneficial for members of the military.

“I think it’s a good project because it shows that we care and are trying to show that we care,” Warner said. “It’s something they appreciate and [it] makes things a little easier and makes things a little brighter for soldiers considering they are always on guard 24-7.”

Warner said knowing people care can make the separation a bit easier.

“I think knowing that you have people that care for you makes it both easier and harder,” Warner said.

Also, he said, being sure of what he’s doing can make it easier to part from loved ones.

“But it’s all [for] a good cause,” Warner said. “And you know I [as a soldier] think of [that] as I’m doing something selfless to make my country stronger and to show that I believe in what democracy stands for and that I am willing to fight for what I believe in – literally.”

In the end, Warner said being away from the people you love can actually make the relationships stronger.

“When you are overseas and not able to be with your family it’s hard, but when you get a package or a letter it shows that they care and are thinking of you,” Warner said. “It allows you not to take for granted the family and friends that you have.”