By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.

In the military getting back home, especially during a holiday, is very important. When you are posted out of the country, it becomes that much harder to get home. Even if you are stationed inside the continental US, you still may have issues getting away from the military to go home. Stateside bases don’t just shut down for Christmas. Somebody has to stay and mind the store.

It was our year for my wife, the Colonel, not to have to mind the store. We went back to Wisconsin to be with the family for Christmas 2009, but we had to make a road trip first to get there. We loaded up the manly crew-cab 4x4 truck and headed east from Colorado across the plans of Nebraska and Iowa. It was cold, snowing and Iowa on Interstate 80 was a mess. There were about 100 miles that we had to be in four wheel drive just to keep moving. Four wheel drive is great for traction, but if you get a big pickup truck sliding, it only becomes a bigger, heavier out-of-control sled. We saw 20-30 vehicles in the ditch. I did notice that some of the eco-friendly folks who dislike sport utility vehicles were resting comfortably in the snow banks of Iowa in their little cars.

Once we left Colorado, we didn’t see the sun again until we returned to the state. It was great seeing the family, but when the sun never comes out, it gets to be depressing. I spent seven years in Alaska with the military and we had some short days in the winter, but the sun did come out on many of those days. I believe they call it seasonal affective disorder and I had it this Christmas in the land of cheese and brats. We have a small farm in Wisconsin; it is wonderful in the summer to be there, but I was thinking hard about the mild and sometimes complete lack of winters in Southwest, Oklahoma.

The positive thing about all this is that we got away from the military and got to go home for Christmas. That has only happened a few times in 30 plus years of Air Force life. We delayed a day leaving for the return trip because there was a blizzard in Nebraska and Iowa. From the time we hit the Mississippi river until we were well past Omaha, we saw over 60 vehicles in the ditch. Some were very dramatic roll-over crashes.

The Colonel works at Air Force Space Command. They are the folks who fly the satellites for the world. I decided to come out of the dark ages and give her a Garmin GPS navigational device for Christmas. We played with it all the way back to the Rocky Mountains. Space Command kind of has an inferiority complex when it compares itself to the other AF Commands, who fly big shiny airplanes. I would suggest that all Space Command needs to do is shut off the satellites for thirty minutes and watch the entire world quickly figure out just who Space Command is. I also think these auto navigation devices should be required to have the voice that talks to you, gives the US Air Force a mandatory plug every time you fire-up that little box.

I was in Germany the winter of 1984-85. It was the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and Europe was having a repeat of the 1944 winter. It was dangerously cold and our soldiers had to fight the last major German counterattack in that brutal Christmas winter. The night we got back to Colorado, I turned on the TV and the 1949 movie Battleground was on. It was about the 101st Airborne Division fighting at Bastogne in that killer 1944 winter.

I know former Staff Sergeant Earl McClung, who fought with Easy Company of the 101St in that famous battle. Many of the survivors of that battle will still say to themselves on a cold winter night, “thank God I am not at Bastogne.” As I would get out of my truck to refuel in the single digit temperatures of Nebraska, I thought of Earl McClung and was thankful his generation fought in that desperate 1944 winter so I would not have to and so our military family got to go home for Christmas in 2009. Home for the Holidays the dream of all military members and their families. Thank you, Earl McClung.

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Copyright 2010, 2016 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.