Gary Boren traditionally reads the Bible story of the nativity to his family on Christmas Eve.
Being in Saudi Arabia with the Utah Army National Guard hasn't made it easy for the family to carry on that tradition this year. But it hasn't stopped it either.Using the resourcefulness that comes from living and working on a Persian Gulf beach for more than three months, Boren got his hands on a video camera and read the story in front of it. A Utahn working in Saudi Arabia brought back Boren's tape, and several others like it, in time for the soldiers' families to have them for Christmas.
American, British and other foreign civilians there have also made telephones available to a group of Utah soldiers working near their living compound, which means some of the soldiers may be able to call home Christmas Day. The civilians have also invited members of the Utah Army National Guard's 120th Quartermaster Detachment to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at their houses.
"They wanted them to sleep overnight and actually wake up and have Christmas with them," said Lynette Harris, whose husband, Andy, is in the same unit as Boren.
Lynette has sent a Christmas package to her husband, and he bought Christmas presents for his wife and two boys in Saudi Arabia. They are able to talk on the phone about once each week, but talk of the holidays has been fairly brief. "I'll say `Gee, I don't really know what to do for Christmas.' " Then the conversation goes elsewhere without either parent making further plans.
One thing Lynette has decided is that the presents for Andy that he cannot use there will be wrapped in patriotic colors and tied with yellow ribbons and then left to remain unopened until he returns. These packages are in addition to packages she sent to Andy that contain items most requested by GIs in Saudi Arabia, including thermal underwear. "He said it's getting quite cold at night. I also sent him a couple of sweatshirts and a Christmas stocking with things like nuts and jerky and a pocket knife - he said he needed a pocket knife."
What the service members don't want is a lot of extra baggage to haul around.
Boren sent his wife a necklace for Christmas that has her name phonetically spelled in Arabic. Lynette knows her husband sent her jewelry - "I know it's jewelry because I got the Visa slip," she said. But the absence of local goods has made it difficult for the soldiers to find presents to send to their families that are reminiscent of the Middle East.
"He said he was trying to find something for the kids that would be meaningful but that it was like one big K mart - everything is shipped in from Taiwan or someplace. Nothing is made in Saudi Arabia," Sherry Boren said. So he ended up sending Operation Desert Shield T-shirts.
Friends and neighbors have also gotten into the act. "You wouldn't believe the people that have sent packages," Lynette said. "All the time (Andy) says he's getting packages from people he never dreamed of. His boss brought a card with money from people from his work. That was really wonderful."
At home in Utah, the family routines will be as much like usual as they can be with one parent half way around the world. "It will be a regular, routine Christmas Day. We'll have relatives in and out," Sherry said. Lynette also has plans to make the Christmas rounds near her home. "Our family all lives in town so that makes the rotation easy Christmas Day."
The one Christmas present the two quartermaster detachment members wish for more than anything is to hear Congress has not extended their call-ups beyond 180 days. That would also be the ultimate Christmas gift for their famiies.