All I want for Christmas is a thick wedge of Junior's cheesecake. A big fat slice with a thick piecrust baptized in syrupy strawberries. The one Junior's insanely charges $6.75 a pop for at their Brooklyn, New York franchise and I more insanely plop down the money for.
The in-between months of a deployment are excruciating, especially around the holidays. That's when that gnawing sense that you have to get home... or else, really sets in and the novelty of being in a combat zone dissipates, only to be replaced by routine and more routine, sporadically interrupted by rockets.
It's during times like this when you swear all you want is a slice of Junior's cheesecake, but really, what you hunger for is home. You want the rocking of the 4 train lulling you from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Brooklyn Museum. You want to devour the imaginary baked ziti your niece made "all by myself" in her Dora kitchen. You want to walk down Utica Avenue listening to the street vendors blast bootleg versions of the Christmas Parang jam, "Santa Looking for a Wife."
Dreaming of a cheesecake Christmas 6,751 miles away from home, I asked soldiers deployed to eastern Afghanistan what they wanted this holiday season. From lower enlisted to a brigadier general, from the outrageous to the poignant, here's what they said:
"Someone special waiting for me when I get home."
-SSG William Dodson,
(Mayor of Combat Outpost Najil in Laghman Province, a "nice place to live")
"A million dollars, even though all the nay sayers, claim money won't buy happiness."
-CPT Patrick Sawicki,
Fort Hood, TX
(Sawicki says although he might not be happy this New Year, he sure will have fun in pursuit of it.)
"Peace in Afghanistan so we can go home and I can have a glass of merlot and play Legos with my son."
-SPC Kenneth Scar
Buena Vista, CO
(At 42, Scar says he's "old" for the Army but this old specialist can still run a mile under six minutes and was just named our task force's soldier of the month.)
"A sewing machine; so I can have some creative fun in my down time out here."
-SGT Rachel Badgeley
(Badgeley's a self-described "tall, loud" soldier whose mom recently mailed her a sewing machine, though I wonder how much "down" time this hardworking sergeant's going to have to use it.)
"Surprise my kids Christmas morning with me wrapped up in a bow."
-SPC Holly Horton
(Horton's an Army truck driver and mom of three who made sure her boys knew how to cook before she deployed.)
"To see my sister as soon as possible to thank her for all the care and support she gave our father who just passed away from a prolonged illness. It is a Christmas gift from God that he finally passed in that his illness was causing him a great deal of pain and suffering and now he is with Jesus."
-MSG David Birkman
(A Minnesota reservist, Birkman's an ordained minister and a veteran public school teacher who works with autistic kids.)
"For my children to have a good Christmas and know that I love them even though I will be in Afghanistan."
-SSG Luke Graziani
New Castle, PA
(When Staff Sergeant G drives his motorcycle he likes to pretend he's a world-famous racer, and even makes engine sounds, though he never breaks the speed limit.)
"To eat popcorn while sitting in the living room with my wife and son, with all of the lights off, except the Christmas tree lights."
-BG Gary Volesky,
(General Voleskey's a Princeton grad who serves as a deputy commanding general for America's First Team aka 1st Cavalry Division.)
Longing for what we don't have is just so human. For deployed soldiers I think the longing will always be homeward.
While "going home" may seem a trivial Christmas wish in comparison other deeper needs, I think when soldiers say this, it's code for a universal need... to be sheltered, safe and loved.
**Disclaimer: Though I am a soldier proudly serving in the U.S. Army, the opinions, gripes, expressions of joy and anguish, or any other meandering thought that end up on this blog are entirely of my own conjuring. They never in any way -- neither closely or even remotely -- reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. **