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Away in a manger - or a hydraulic shop
Due to the lack of suitable Christmas tree specimens in Afghanistan, B Co 603rd ASB had to make do with what they had: Hydraulic line, a printer and goodies/decorations from home. (courtesy Staff Sgt. Paul Ramus)

Eight years ago, I set up a CNN e-mail alert for "Osama Bin Laden." It was to alert me when he'd been caught or killed, you see.

The info in the forwarded articles is always very mundane, and I feel stupid whenever I receive one. Still, I haven't canceled them.

I keep receiving them for sentimental reasons, I guess, to remind me of a time when such dramatically positive developments seemed possible - redemptive even.

Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan continues, and may have another eight years on the way on top of the eight we've already seen.

I have a child who is eleven. The war's been going on since she was three. She'll likely be in college before it's over.

I'm lucky, though. I can't imagine what it must be like to leave your young children behind while you go off on yet another tour of duty.

Frankly, I'm not sure I'd be able to go through with it. I'm glad I've never had to test that theory.

A couple of years after 9/11, when the Iraq war started, I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for American soldiers on the basis that they and their families were being abused and misused by their elected leaders.

I still feel that way to an extent, but I've long since stopped feeling sorry for them - for the simple reason that they don't feel at all sorry for themselves.

The servicepeople I know, and almost certainly the ones you know as well, don't consider themselves particularly unfortunate. Sure, they gripe about bureaucracy and politicians and regulations, as soldiers the world over have since the beginning of standing armies.

But they continue doing what they want to do, living the lives they've chosen to live, proudly, patiently, and largely without regret.

So when I relay to you the accompanying photo of a makeshift Christmas tree in a hydraulic shop on a U.S. base in largely treeless Afghanistan - reprinted with permission from my friends in the Ramus family - it's not to make you feel sorry for anyone or have pity for anyone, and it's certainly not to incite any particular political opinion either way.

It's there to reinforce the notion that Christmas is what we make of it, and happens wherever it is celebrated. Like that original scene in a manger in the Holy Land, it needs no fancy trappings and has no minimum requirements other than a belief in the possibility of redemption.