Troops' holiday celebrated in creative ways

KABUL, Afghanistan — Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, thousands of miles away from their loved ones, did things this Christmas Day that they wouldn't at home. They improvised — building an ersatz Christmas tree out of stacked communications equipment. And they partied.

At Camp Phoenix, outside Kabul, dinner included prime rib, shrimp cocktail and a cake the shape — and nearly the size — of a Christmas tree.

After the sun went down, and the mammoth spread of food was removed, the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation club at Camp Phoenix cleared the dance floor and blasted hip-hop music until midnight.

NATO units from Romania, who maintain a detachment at Phoenix, invited Georgia National Guardsmen to an evening outdoor barbecue, but only a few were up to the challenge of yet another meal.

"You've got to do something to break up the monotony," said Capt. Delando Langley of Woodbridge, Va. "If you get one down day, it's Christmas."

With the American military's "General Order No. 1" still in effect, all celebrants were teetotalers. U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan are prohibited from consuming alcohol.

Langley spent Christmas evening sipping on an iced tea with friends.

"Sometimes you're only limited by your own creativity," said Capt. Chuck Newton of Lithonia, Ga.

A group calling itself "Operation Christmas" delivered more than 2,800 bags of gifts to the camp.

Throughout Nangahar province, Georgia Guard members, also from the 48th Brigade, peppered their barren bases and heavily armored MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles) with creative signs of Christmas.

Spc. David Brunson, 21, of Rome, Ga., donned reindeer ears instead of a helmet, which popped out of the turret of his MRAP as he visited a base near Torkum Gate, an entry route from Pakistan.

Nearby, Staff Sgt. Michael Gloyd, 32, of Marietta, Ga., and his comrades turned extra communications antennas on their sides and stacked them on top of one another to create a makeshift Christmas tree. He estimated the tree was worth $10,000 of antennas; the miniature ornaments another $5.

"I looked at my guys one day and said, 'We need a tree,' and this was the best we could find around here," Gloyd said. "We like it."