Wednesday, December 26, 2007
They weren't home for Christmas
Interesting thing about spending Christmas on a U.S. military base in Iraq ... it is a lot easier to look for Santa when you are in a desert away from city lights ... this year, staring toward full moon-lit skies. Slightly disappointing, however, to discover the flashing objects overhead aren't reindeer and sleigh, but Black Hawk helicopters ferrying troops across the country.

This isn't my first Christmas in a war zone. However, it was one of the more pleasant holidays, as these things go, in Iraq. Spending a lot of time reporting live from the U.S. Army Camp Striker Dining Facilities - at least we were well fed.

I try to remember that these soldiers are somebody's mothers, fathers, sons, daughters - or the wacky cousin everybody loves to talk about. And this Christmas, most families of U.S. troops in Iraq can only talk about these men and women - instead of physically hugging them or exchanging gifts around the tree.

CNN cameraman extraordinaire, Ken Tillis, captured one powerful image that really symbolizes the get-on-with-it spirit of these American service members trying to cope so far from home.

This is Sergeant First Class Kerensa Hardy. The Army public affairs officer was responsible for dealing with a CNN crew for live Christmas coverage, seemingly non-stop for 48 hours. Earlier in the week, her boss stepped on buried bomb - survived - but lost a leg and was recovering in hospital. So it was up to her to see that we were happy - and that no soldier acted the fool (or worse) on live tv. We later learned this is Hardy's first holiday deployment in a war zone ... and that she's missing her four-year old daughter back at home.

Image courtesy Ken Tillis

Between live reports, Ken photographed Hardy reading a newspaper while waiting for a Christmas call from her baby girl. You'll see her phone is placed on a door fixture just outside the Dining Facility. The dining hall structure (it seats 1,800 troops) doesn't allow for cell phone coverage inside.

To remain so composed, professional - and patient - given all that must be going on in her life this time of year, sort of took us aback.

We weren't privy to the mother-daughter conversation (we were workin'...and privacy is at a premium on a military base) but I'm betting there's a four year-old somewhere in America, who is very proud of her military mom.

Watch my reports on Christmas Day in Iraq and Santa stopping in Iraq

From CNN Correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh at U.S. Army Camp Striker, Baghdad
SFC Kerensa Hardy was one of my troopers when I was a drill sergeant. I am especially proud of her to keep on keeping on despite the tragic events on the ground. She epitomizes all of the brave men and women who serve our Nation in harm's way and sacrifice so much without asking for anything in return. God bless her and keep the rest of our troopers safe.
SFC Kerensa Hardy’s commitment to serve is incomparable. Even in the face of adversity, she is dedicated to carrying out task to completion and performing without complaining. She’s a mother, even away from home, and an example to both those she serves and leads. I am honored to know her as my family and my friend. Be blessed. We love you.
We salute America's courageous troops.
If this was her first deployment as a SFC I would say she's doing well for herself. I was out of school for maybe 5 or 6 months when I went on my first one. To not diminish what she is doing or the sacrifices she is making, there are soldiers that have spent every other year of their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan since the war has been going on. Its a hard life to live and if you've never been in the military a day in your life, there's just no way you can really ever understand.
I WOULD LIKE TO SEND MY LOVE AND PRAYERS OUT TO ALL OF YOU THAT ARE THEIR IN IRAQ AND ALL OVER THE WORLD PROTECTING THE FREEDOM THAT OUR FOREFATHERS FOUGHT SO HARD FOR US TO HAVE. I LOST A COUSIN IN IRAQ AND HAVE SEVERAL FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS WHO ARE OR HAVE BEEN THERE THAT I AM UNABLE TO LOCATE. MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL AND PLEASE KNOW YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN. IF THEY WOULD ALLOW ME I WOULD COME THERE IN PERSON TO SALUTE YOU AND SHAKE YOUR HAND. JILL K. ROZELL FORMER ARMY. GOD BLESS YOU ALL AND GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! ANOTHER THING ROZELL FOR PRESIDENT :-) HE WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU. DAVID M. ROZELL (INDEPENDANT) MAKE YOUR OWN CHOICES DONT BE FORCED BY ANYONE TO DO ANYTHING THAT YOU DO NOT WISH TO DO. PERSONALLY I AM WRITING IN MY OWN VOTE FOR THE INDEPENDANT I LISTED ABOVE. AGAIN GOD BLESS EACH OF YOU AND FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME ANYTIME. P.S. ANDERSON COOPER HAVE I GOT A GREAT STORY FOR YOU. TO THE TROOPS THE STORY BELONGS TO ALL OF YOU.
SFC Hardy's boss' leg was lost almost two weeks before. This is another story and should ruin the Christmas story but no one seems interested writing about or giving mention by name, of Maj. Jason S. Waggoner's Christmas experience. DOD publishes releases on the death casualties, while a traumatic injury casualty gets the hush-hush.
Major Waggoner's story is much the same of other wonded Soldiers. I don't think anyone is giving it the hush and there are many great stories about WIAs. Google Jeffrey Mittman and you'll see another friend of mine that was wounded and has received national attention. Sure it's press hype when the President eats breakfast with a WIA on Veteran's day, but his story is front page because of it.

Good luck to all the Soldier's in zone and good luck to Jason and his family.
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