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Holiday Blues

Hawaii will always be my favorite place to spend the holidays as family gatherings are very special and memorable. Coming from a large family was a plus as it was normal to celebrate with our extended families and close friends. Entering the month of December was always exciting as my family members took turns hosting potluck parties along with some Christmas games karaoke competitions afterwards. Exchanging gifts wasn’t only the best part, expressing our love and just enjoying each other’s company made everything about the holidays special.

Prior to leaving for the military, I was informed that I would be missing holidays, birthdays weddings and lots of special occasions. At the time it didn’t matter because joining the military was my childhood dream and I told myself I would find a way to make it home. It wasn’t until I missed my first Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s I realized that I would be spending the holidays with my new military friends, and their families if they were married. At first, I was depressed I became accustomed to my new military family as I met some Asian families who celebrated similarly to how I did back in Hawaii. There were a variety of Asian cultures which was great because I was still able to eat my favorite Asian dishes like I did when I was still in Hawaii. What made it more amazing was spending it with other military families sharing our traditions and creativity from our different backgrounds and life experiences. We also had squadron celebrations which was also amazing because the members families are also invited, giving everyone a chance to bond with each other. After the first year of not spending the holidays at home with my family, things got easier as I accepted that this is how my new life will be. After accruing thirty days of leave over my first year in the military, I was able to go home and visit family and friends. Living the military life helped me appreciate my family and Hawaii more than ever. We did touristy activities that I didn’t do before, saw how beautiful my home state is and learned more about life in Hawaii since I actually moved away. I enjoyed every moment I spent with family, making memories, and planning my next visit. Coming home to visit or meeting up in another city was awesome, but the thought of our time coming to an end and going back to reality is the saddest part. There were times I didn’t want to come home and see family because I didn’t want to hurt when it was time for me to leave. And no matter how many times I visit, or they visit, leaving to go back to my base never got easier. I always cried, wondered if this would be my last visit home, will I see my family again, all these thoughts running through my mind causing me to be depressed. Once I got back into the work mode and hanging out with friends and co-workers, I was back to my normal military life.

After three enlisted years and earning my undergrad degree, I was ready for the next challenge which was to become a commissioned officer. I applied to a one-year Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and got accepted to the University of Hawaii ROTC Program. I was very happy and excited as I get to be home for my one-year master’s program. This time, I took advantage of spending more time with my mom, newborn nephew, sisters, and extended family. I was glad to spend all three major holidays followed by celebrating my nephew’s 1st birthday, as first birthdays are a significant event in Hawaii. For my one-year ROTC for my master’s program, I just attended classes, completed my ROTC classes, field training in the summer, then I was done. The reality of leaving my family again started to depress me, but this time, I tell myself the faster I get my contract done, the faster time will fly, and I will be able to retire and reunite with my family again. Commissioning day came I was a 2Lt in the United States Air Force. I spent about a month with my family then left in September 2003 to report to my first base as an officer at Moody AFB, GA. About three months into the job, I left for my technical school in Gulfport, MS with other officers. My Air Force Specially Code 3C which was Communications Officer. Since the schoolhouse closed during the holidays, we were able to return to our home bases for the holidays. Since I was a single officer, I decided to set a leadership example by serving all three Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year meals at the dining facility to our single Airman who lived in the dorms. As our ranks go up, so does our responsibility to our troops.

After a year in to my first base, Moody AFB, I was tasked to deploy to Balad, Iraq, which I was very excited to hear. I had two months to prepare, left prepaid checks to my landlord, my officer co-worker kept my vehicle and checked on my house, utilities were wet to automatic payments. I was ready to go. Shortly after I arrived at Balad, I was introduced to my sponsor who I would be doing turn over with, next the coolest boss I ever worked for. He was a full bird colonel, at the time of my arrival had nine months remaining of year tour. He was very awesome when taking care of us troops, he was strict but fair. Since I was his executive officer, I planned our group’s holiday meals and had it delivered to our building. The turnout was great, and everyone thanked me for setting this special dinner up. Leadership along with other officers served the line for our troops hoping they will see that they are appreciated. We also had a beautiful decorative dining facility with our all-time favorites, our turkey meals, and sides, with some beautifully sculpted fruits which help made our dining facility look festive. I really enjoyed serving our troops at the same time missing my family back at home. I can honestly say that although we experienced incoming rockets, mortars and bombs, this deployment was a pleasant one. We got attacked during all times of the day, I am grateful that there were minimal casualties while I was there. Most people I knew made it through their deployment and made it home to their families. There were a couple during my time there, who didn’t. After learning about a few lives taken, I started wondering if I would make it home alive, healthy and in one peace. It was New Year’s Eve; we were able to celebrate and perform our mission at the same time. The group who planned the NY celebration did an awesome job by having lots of props, decorations, music, and all, which made this New Year a very memorable one.

My last deployment was 365 days to Afghanistan. This experience was quite different from my first two. For some reason I felt this year long deployment was not going to be like the first two, I was hoping it would be better, but I knew it wouldn’t be. Why? Because we Air Force Airman were on loan to the Army, which meant I would have an Army boss. As soon as I stepped off the helicopter and asked this captain where the latrine was located, I had a weird feeling about this guy, who ended up being my boss. There were some Air Force familiar faces that would be staying on camp with me, so I felt a bit relieved. I spent my Christmas with majority of the Army, a few Navy, and a couple of Air Force personnel. Since this was a really small camp with less personnel than we had in Iraq, the dining facility was smaller as we had less than 200 personnel. The contractors still made some beautiful carvings from fruits and even had a beautiful ice angel. Our dinner for that night was steak and lobster, which was very yummy and fulfilling. After this Christmas excitement dinner, I finally reported to work at normal hours.

Although we had a nice meal and celebrated with our new family whom we’ll be together for a year, there was a sadness in my heart after learning about the fallen members whose pictures are on the wall in the dining facility. I was really sad, missing my family, and couldn’t wait for this year long deployment to be over with. But my sadness went away soon after I realized that those fallen soldiers will never come home and celebrate with their families ever again. During my time in Afghanistan, there five casualties in my first six months. The fifth was our 1SGT who arrived just a week prior and brought me breakfast every day as I was stuck to my desk at the tactical operations center. It was the morning of June 20, the convoy got ready, loaded up and headed out the gate. In less than ten minutes, the convoy was being attacked and we lost our 1SGT. This is it. Life was never the same for me.

I used to love holidays such as Memorial and Veteran day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, but ever since we lost some of our brothers and sisters, celebrating isn’t so meaningful anymore. Whenever our happy holidays are coming up quickly, I become depressed having no spirit or energy to celebrate. I start thinking and feeling bad about those who’s loved ones are gone and won’t be able to celebrate like they used to be. At the same time, I am thankful and grateful for everyday that I wake up and live for another day and made it home. I am glad that my military career is over at the same time, I still pray for the families who lost loved ones or have loved ones injured during these deployments.

I am glad that our troops are finally out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but after all that has happened, my feelings for the holidays will never be the same. I do love my family and friends at home, and I truly believe that if I was living at home in Hawaii for this year’s Christmas and New Year’s, I would be almost as happy as I used to be. We currently reside in the Midwest which isn’t great especially since we have no family around to spend time and talk with on a daily basis.

Before joining the military, I didn’t think it was possible to feel happy as sad during the holidays. I am pretty sure other military and veterans can relate; if you haven't served in the military, it would be hard to understand. I do hope that one day I will be able to be free of my so-called Holiday Blues.

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