Every Christmas for the past six or seven years and from the warmth and comfort of my home, I have -- via letters to the editor or in articles here and elsewhere -- tried to convey a heartfelt message to our troops still in harm's way and to their loved ones back home.
I usually start by mentioning how many additional troops have made the ultimate sacrifice since the last Christmas and how many more troops will be spending "yet another Christmas away from their loved ones on the cruel battlefields of a land where the Newborn King has not been heard of..."
I will spare our readers that first statistic, but this Christmas we need to remind ourselves that, in addition to the almost 40,000 men and women still serving in Afghanistan, another 200,000 military men and women are deployed worldwide performing missions that will keep us safe.
And where are they based this holiday season?
Jim Garamone at the American Forces Press Service tells us:
There are about 28,000 American service members in South Korea standing watch on the demilitarized zone -- often called the last Cold War frontier. Another 39,000 Americans are based in Japan, providing security for that critical ally.
There are roughly 43,000 Americans in Germany, 11,000 in Great Britain, 11,000 in Italy and 1,000 in Belgium.
Thousands of sailors and Marines are afloat this holiday season, patrolling the sea lanes to ensure they are open and safe. They represent the U.S. commitment to global security.
In Africa, about 2,500 Americans are based in Djibouti, while others are performing training missions in other nations of the world's second largest continent.
In the U.S. Southern Command area of operations, about 5,500 U.S. service members are working with allies and partners throughout Central and South America.
And let's not forget our most recent deployment of 45 Americans to South Sudan to provide security for the embassy in the capital city of Juba and for emergency evacuation of our citizens.
I fully realize that our national interests and security will always demand the presence of our dedicated service members at various overseas locations. I hope that those such absences at Christmas time will be few and far between and that next Christmas -- or the Christmas thereafter -- when they listen to or sing the hauntingly beautiful words from "I'll be home for Christmas," it will finally not be "only in [their] dreams."
And to those nearly 40,000 troops still in Afghanistan...
...still crossing some treacherous, frigid river in some Afghan valley instead of perhaps fly-fishing with their sons at some tranquil mountain stream back home.
...still flying over hostile snow-covered mountain passes instead of perhaps sledding with their daughters down some snow-covered hill back home.
...still watching for insurgents from a doorway at some desert compound instead of perhaps watching with their children for Santa back home
To those troops for who the only bright lights and glow they may see this time of the year are muzzle flashes or the eerie light through their night-vision devices instead of enjoying the bright Christmas lights and the glow of a cozy fire with their loved ones back home, on this 13th Christmas of war, as we once again run out of adequate words to express our gratitude and our best wishes to our heroes, may we be forgiven once again for borrowing from that classic Christmas Song and for paraphrasing a little bit:
And so we're offering this simple phrase,
For our heroes from Camp Leatherneck to Bagram Field,
Although it's been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you
Lead photo: U. S. Navy Petty Officers 3rd Class Kyle Bartlett, left, and Damian Liker read cards from their care packages during a holiday spirit celebration on the mess decks of the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg during a holiday spirit celebration while underway in the Gulf of Oman, Dec. 21, 2013. DoD Photo
All photos released by DOD