Written by Sgt. Matthew Britton
27th Public Affairs Detachment
Monrovia, Liberia – The holiday season is among the service members deployed to Liberia in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development-led mission, Operation United Assistance.
Despite being away from their loved ones, together they remain mentally, spiritually and physically tough, and determined to enjoy the season.
Religious services for troops throughout the Joint Forces Command – United Assistance area of operations began December 16th with the start of Hanukkah. Along with traditional religious services, Liberian and the JFC-UA command organized a musical program at the Barclay Training Center here, to take in some Liberian culture with their allied partners.
The events started on the evening of December 22nd, with the JFC-UA BTC choir singing three Christmas songs, followed by the armed forces of Liberia band and ended with performances by Liberian musicians and dancers.
“The BTC choir sang three songs (then) we were relieved by numerous performers from Liberia,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Harrington, joint operations center noncommissioned officer in charge, Operations Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky. “It was great to celebrate Christmas through singing and praise. Our families are far away, so we have to build that family here.”
Harrington said he was both impressed and inspired by the performers musical and dancing abilities to celebrate the season.
Service members were able to reflect spiritually through numerous religious services offered throughout JFC-UA’s area of operations. Among others, the last night of Hanukkah was celebrated December 23rd and a candlelight service is scheduled for 7:30pm December 24th.
Service members also had the opportunity to show their physical strength, which they did during numerous endurance and strength races and events held throughout the JFC-UA area of operations between December 23rd and 24th.
Task Force Eagle Medic, comprised of Soldiers from the 86th Combat Support Hospital based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, pushed their limits with a functional fitness challenge at Roberts International Airport just outside Monrovia.
And Task Force Lifeliner, comprised of Soldiers from the 101st Sustainment Brigade, also out of Fort Campbell, tested their physical limits with their own version of reindeer games. The Lifelines will balance out some their physically strenuous activities with some caroling scheduled for 7:00pm December 24th.
At the BTC, the JFC-UA leadership organized a sort of reindeer games as well where troops could make a team and compete in a head-to-head endurance race against one another, said Harrington.
The Barclay Training Center was the course for this one-and-a-half-mile event that included various exercises for the troops to complete – all while wearing their Interceptor Body Armor vests.
“First we ran about a mile in IBA vest,” said Pfc. Robert Luna, a Soldier with HHB. “After that, we did a litter carry about a quarter of the way around the compound and then we called in a nine-line medevac. I enjoy doing things like this and it’s not that often that people get to do it.”
The contest also included an event where the participants had to drag a rescue stretcher, designed to slide on various terrains, halfway around the BTC just like reindeer would pull Santa’s sleigh.
Each member of the winning team for the reindeer games received an air assault hat and praise from Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commanding general, JFC-UA. They also walked away with good-natured bragging rights and the strong bonds built through teamwork.
In addition to all the events, all service members will have the opportunity to enjoy a holiday meal December 25th, which will be comprised of items like grilled steak, honey baked ham, and an assortment of fruits vegetables and desserts.