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Commentary: Peace attend thee, all through the night

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I was alone again during the holiday season. This time it was fall of 2001, and I was deployed to the Middle East. We were pretty busy over there, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to wallow in self-pity.

However, I had left my wife and two little kids at a base we’d just moved to in the middle of nowhere.

My heart ached for my wife when I got a letter (letters came late and irregularly at the time). She was written up by the base lawn inspector, the couple next-door picked one of her short times of respite as the perfect opportunity to start a yelling match, and one of the kids had gotten terribly sick.

The best present I got that year was learning my Air and Space Expeditionary Force would be coming home in time for Christmas. When I got back, all those problems seemed to melt away. They were happy, and I was happy.

The best presents that year were sleeping in my own bed, basking in my wife’s loving embrace, and kissing the pudgy, beautiful cheeks of my sleeping children.

Now at this season when we once again sing, “Joy to the World” and “Auld Lang Syne,” Americans across the country will spend time with their family and friends. They will sleep comfortably in their own beds in the safety of their homes. It reminds me of the words in a lullaby:

“Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night.
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night...”

In my mind, those guardian angels are the 350,000 or so men and women of the U.S. military who will be spending this Christmas and New Year in far-distant lands oftentimes facing risk and danger.

Christmas provides a wonderful opportunity to express thanks for their sacrifices and commitment. This can take many forms. Installations design special programs that assist families of deployed personnel. Squadrons send out care packages, into which we can put an extra little something nice. Those homemade cookies are delicious no matter how many pieces they arrive in.

E-mails, a good old-fashioned handwritten letter, photos of a fishing trip, there are a million little things we can do.

Nothing can replace one-on-one, people caring for people interaction. When you see a person in need, you attend to that need, plain and simple. It can mean so much.

Giving of yourself, giving from your heart; these are the greatest, most appreciated gifts. We all have family, friends or acquaintances serving overseas. Don’t let this Christmas pass without doing something from the heart for someone you care about, who’s deployed or left-behind.

It may be the most treasured gift they receive.

“Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping.
I my loved ones’ vigil keeping,
All through the night…”