AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Hanging Christmas decorations from military vehicles and counting down the New Year in sandbag bunkers, deployed Marines and sailors find their own unique ways to celebrate the holidays.
Although a difficult time for those deployed, the Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment were able to lift each others’ spirits for Christmas and New Years in Ar Ramadi, Iraq.
“Everyone around here did a great job to try and make every Marine and sailor in the battalion felt at home for the holidays,” said Cpl. Alcedo R. Sanchez, 21-year-old non-commissioned officer in charge of the administration shop for Headquarters and Service Company.
Miniature, decorated trees sprouted in the living areas, illumination rounds from mortars doubled as fireworks and presents were handed out throughout the battalion for small celebrations.
The troops even received a visit from a combat Santa Claus, played by Gunnery Sgt. Joseph P. Poe, 31-year-old company gunnery sergeant for Company B, who wore a Santa suit with flak vest, Kevlar helmet and M4 service rifle.
The visit from the jolly, rifle-toting “Santa-Gunny” was the most popular of celebrations for the Marines and sailors who witnessed it.
“When someone does something entertaining like that, you just have to smile, even when you don’t want to,” said Hospitalman Matthew B. Siruchek, a 20-year-old corpsman for H&S Company.
In addition to the decorations and antics, Marines and sailors enjoyed candies, cakes, cookies, meats, cheeses and hot cocoa during their holiday gatherings.
All of the comforts of home shared for the celebrations were provided by generous care packages from families and support organizations from back in the United States.
“The families and those who support us went completely overboard, in a good way,” said Navy Lt. Jamie J. Stall-Ryan, 40-year-old chaplain for the battalion. “It seemed like everyone had their own Christmas tree.”
The majority of celebrations conducted by the Marines and sailors were a result of their own initiatives and holiday spirit, said Stall-Ryan, a native of Milwaukee, Wisc.
Many in the battalion recognized the importance of coming together for the holidays, even if it wasn’t with their regular family.
“Even if you’re away from your family it‘s important to celebrate,” said Siruchek, a native of Montgomery, N.Y. “It lifts people spirits and is a welcome distraction to our everyday work over here.”
In addition to lifting morale, some believe the celebrations serve to remind the Marines and sailors of what they are fighting for.
“It reminds them of what is waiting at home, who they are and where they come from,” said Stall-Ryan. “It also reminds them of what they are defending.”
With the holidays now over and the celebrations winding down, the Marines and sailors of 1/6 look forward to completing the last half of their deployment in Ramadi.
Many believe the next few months will go by much quicker than the first.
“It’s different for every person, but the remainder of our time should be a little easier with the holidays behind us,” said Sanchez, a native of New York City, N.Y.