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The Heartache of Deployment – and the Joy of Connections – During the Holidays

The holidays are upon us, and the reality for many military members is the separation from their family members and loved ones. Servicemen and women often spend their holidays in different parts of the world missing milestone events, from family gatherings to white elephant gift exchanges.

Veterans Chris Gordon and Deron Santiny know the heartache of spending the holidays away. These times away often brought feelings of sadness and loneliness, despite being surrounded by what both warriors considered another form of family.

Separation from Loved Ones Reinforces Comradeship

 

Since childhood, Chris has experienced the ups and downs of reunions and separations, both personally and in the military.

“I was on a plane by myself at 6 years old coming to New York,” Chris recalled. Chris’ mom had made the tough decision to leave him in the care of his aunts during his early childhood while she helped support him from abroad. Chris attended Manhattan schools and did one year of college in upstate New York before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1997. After several deployments and reenlistments, Chris was ultimately deployed to northern Iraq in October 2004.

During this deployment, Chris remembers spending time at his unit’s supply office in a repurposed Iraqi airfield. There, soldiers bonded over ping pong and basketball during off hours and huddled together when they received news of the tragic bombing in Mosul on Dec. 21, 2004.

“I was a supply sergeant and my mentor, who had shown me the ropes, Staff Sgt. Julian Melo, was lost in that bombing in Mosul,” Chris recalled. “We would usually spend free time together whenever I could catch a ride on a Black Hawk [helicopter] to his base. I got the news that he was killed in that attack while I was working in the supply office. That was rough – I felt survivor’s guilt.”

While being with his brothers and sisters in arms helped ease some of the grief, the enormity of the loss added to the stress and hardship of being away from loved ones that December. Twenty-two people died in that attack, including 14 U.S. servicemen and women, and 75 were wounded.

Holiday Messages from Home

Deron, who served in the Navy and the U.S. National Guard, has fond memories of returning home to his wife and daughters after various deployments. However, leaving the comfort of home and his loved ones – specifically during the holidays – naturally brought challenges.

“I was deployed to Iraq for Christmas in 2004. Needless to say, it was somber to be away,” Deron said. “I remember getting a package from [my family] with a few gifts. It was nice to have a touch of home even if it was something small.”

Besides the occasional phone call or Facetime, these tangible messages from home proved to be powerful reminders of encouragement and love for Deron. While he smiled opening the cute drawings and notes from his daughters, his wife, Cody, was at home reminding their girls the importance of his job in the military. “My wife made sure they knew where I was, what I was doing and how important our job was to their freedom.”

Deron was also sure to share these gifts of comfort with his fellow soldiers who were single or had no family. “We made sure to keep them taken care of by sharing things we received.”

Finding Joy on the Other End

Although Chris may have missed milestones with his family, he has also had the opportunity to share some impactful memories with his children.  

Chris was injured in Iraq when his convoy was ambushed with a remotely detonated improvised explosive device (IED), followed by small arms fire. He woke up at Walter Reed with no right leg and a badly wounded left leg, in addition to other injuries. At this time, Chris’ son Justin was 6 years old. The doctors at the hospital provided kid-friendly material to introduce the idea of a prosthetic leg before Justin came to the hospital to see his dad.

“By the time my son came to see me,” Chris recalled, “he said, ‘Dad, it’s going to be so cool. You’re going to have a robot leg.’ I’d be laughing when I wasn’t supposed to be. But it was great seeing him walk in there with such a great attitude.”

Years later, that same uplifting sentiment was captured in Marvel’s Make Me a Hero digital series, where Chris’ personal experience inspired a superhero representation – a powerful moment he is happy he gets to share with his family.

Showing Support

WWP supporters can visit this page for a list of organizations helping to show appreciation to deployed troops during the holidays in the form of letters, cards, and care packages. These all serve as a reminder that warriors are appreciated for their service and sacrifice – and that they are not alone in spirit.

Lastly, WWP works to honor and empower veterans during the holidays and throughout the year. Through WWP’s emotional support programsadventure-based workshopsclinical care, and connection opportunities, warriors and their families can build the resilience veterans need to overcome physical and mental health challenges.

Contact: Raquel Rivas – Public Relations, rrivas@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.426.9783

About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

 

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