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Merry Christmas Wishes

As I pass through airports, I see a fair number of soldiers on their way home, or away from home to a service destination. When I can, I try to greet them and tell them thanks for their service. I've seen a lot of folks do the same thing.

It was hard at first, approaching a complete stranger to pay them a compliment. You don't know for sure what their disposition is or if they'll think you odd, and a lot of folks like their privacy. But most of them return a shy sort of thanks at the gesture; some seem genuinely touched.

I remember standing in line to board a plane a couple of months ago coming back from San Antonio, TX, and a young soldier was in line behind me. I quietly passed on my thanks to him for his service, and he graciously received it with a quiet shyness.

His day was really made a few moments after that, however, when an attractive young woman about his age approached him, touched his shoulder and effusively did the same thing. She actually said it loud enough that a number of folks in the waiting area noticed and many of them smiled and nodded approvingly to the soldier as he looked around.

There's perhaps no "lonely" as deep as the loneliness of a person separated from their loved ones at what is a traditional family time, such as Christmas. And there's likely no lonelier a person can be than someone serving in the middle of a foreign culture surrounded by strange folks and ways, knowing a few among them wish you harm.

This holiday season, we have brave men and women willingly paying the price of freedom for those of us at home. Some are in danger areas, some are not, but all of them are removed from family to one degree or another.

It's a condition these folks sign up for; it comes with the territory of serving America and going to do what needs to be done wherever it needs doing. It's also why those of us not in uniform owe these folks a special debt of gratitude. You can do that by thanking them in person when you have the opportunity, and keeping these brave souls in your thoughts and prayers, particularly as you gather with your family over the next couple of weeks to open gifts, share memories and celebrate.

There's also a neat program I heard of recently called "Operation Call Home" -- It's a grassroots campaign started by a Semper Fidelis Detachment Marine Corp League in Wenonah, NJ, to aid U.S. military service members serving overseas and at home. It's been collecting calling cards since February 2003 and its inception is a touching one.

Bill McGinnis, father of Marine Sergeant Brian McGinnis, who was killed in Iraq on March 30, 2003, in a helicopter crash, never received a phone call from his son. He wanted to give other parents a chance to speak with their children in any U.S. service throughout the world. He joined forces with the Marine Corp League in June 2003, and through his efforts has been able to bring media attention to this campaign. The result is tens of thousands of cards have been donated overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, veterans hospitals, and reserve units stationed across the U.S.

Check out the Web site, keep these folks in your thoughts and prayers, and Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones.
-- Joe Roybal