“Remember that Abraham came out of Iraq,” Father Georges said as he outlined the homily he has planned for the Canadian troops Wednesday night.
Canadian soldiers, sailors, and aviators camped in the desert near Iraq will celebrate a midnight Christmas mass where they will be told the joyous story of how Christ was born near where they are confronting jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq & Al-Sham.
“We are in the region where, literally, the plan of God and the plan of salvation started. What are the chances to do that in your lifetime?”
Because of heightened security concerns, particularly since the murders two months ago in Canada of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the military has asked the media not to publish the family names of troops deployed to Kuwait.
“Unfortunately, ISIS is not observing the Christmas period,” said Justin, a Royal Canadian Air Force captain who flies one of Canada’s six CF-18 Hornets here.
“Of course it is more poignant being deployed to this particular theatre. It is unfamiliar and there are some interesting things going on.”
He said he had been very moved by Christmas cards written by schoolchildren he had received from the family resources centre at CFB Cold Lake.
“I thought it was a very nice that the community had taken their time to express their generous sentiments to us,” he said.
Justin had spent Christmases deployed at airfields where Hornets defended the approaches to North America, but many of the 600 Canadian troops deployed here on Operation Impact have never been away from their families during the holidays.
“I am missing out on my first Christmas and I find it a little hard, but we try to communicate as often as we can,” said Brenda, a major from Manitoba who is a staff officer with Operation Impact.
“I will take a couple of minutes to send some love to the family, and spend some time with my co-workers and then carry on.”
Her husband, who is also in the Canadian Forces, is back in Manitoba with their two children. “I try to keep things age-appropriate but my children understand that Mom is away trying to help stop some bullies,” she said.
Another mother, leading seaman Teryn, was also finding it “difficult being away” from her two children at Christmas for the first time, but it helped her husband had been deployed overseas during the holidays and knew what it was like.
Their daughter “was quite concerned when I came here because ‘you are going to fight bad guys.’ She said she hoped that I was safe. I told her that there were lots of people here protecting us.”
Sgt. Remi, a bachelor normally based at CFB Petawawa, Ont., once spent another Christmas at an overseas location he was still not allowed to speak about.
“That was a little hard,” he recalled. “But you can still eat turkey and have a good time.”
He added his mother was not so keen on his missing Christmas with her because “she is very religious. I plan on calling her. If I didn’t, I would never hear the end of it.”
‘Unfortunately, ISIS is not observing the Christmas period’
He reminisced about the “réveillon”in New Brunswick, where his family would sing carols, and feast on turkey and poutine râpeé.
For Maj. Steve, a civilian engineer who grew up in Newfoundland and now lives in Nova Scotia with his wife and daughter, it was his third Christmas overseas.
“It is a cliché but it comes with the job and you make the best of it,” he said. “Some days you want to block Christmas out or it will make you feel sad. We are getting a lot of gifts and a lot of candy to butter the tooth.”
Fortunately, foreign deployments are not like they were years ago when telephone calls were difficult or impossible to make and Christmas presents sometimes arrived months late.