Written By: James Lee Schmeling, IVMF Managing Director
As I read my colleagues’ recent reminiscences about holidays passed in service to our country, I was reminded of my own holiday experiences while I served in the Air Force beginning 25 years ago. As a junior enlisted service member, I was one of the “married guys” who lived off base. What that really meant is I had a cheap apartment (you can’t afford much as an E-2 in Denver, Colorado, in 1987) with a kitchen in which we could cook holiday meals and have the single folks who couldn’t make it home for the holidays over for our Christmas dinner.
I recall vividly that first Christmas turkey served to classmates in my year-long technical training school – the turkey that wasn’t done quickly enough to serve on time. The one that caught on fire in the oven when we used the broiler to hurry it along and crisp up the skin on top. The one that was so salty it was nearly inedible because, trying to save it, we dumped an entire container of Morton Salt on the fire rather than using a fire extinguisher. Never mind that the wives’ tales call for baking soda to smother a fire, not salt, we all laughed together and ate salty, burnt and charred, yet undercooked turkey. I remember my friends from then, most of whom I lost touch with eventually, only to find them again through LinkedIn or Facebook in recent years.
I remember other holidays at a first duty station, having my fellow airmen over for Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day barbeques with mini-grills on a patio. Thanksgiving and Christmas meals around a tiny dining table and spread out on the couch, chair and kitchen counters because there was barely room for everyone. The people at the meals changed from holiday to holiday, but I always hosted whoever didn’t have any place else to go that day. Hopefully the food improved each year.
It took on yet another facet when we went overseas. At a small, 12 person detachment in the middle of Spain, we hosted meals at our “club”, a rented facility with laundry, kitchen, and a mini-exchange we took turns running. All 12 of us, plus our family members, local friends, and visitors, gathered at the club for holiday meals, sharing or taking turns with the cooking from holiday to holiday. We took turns using the only phone outside of the official detachment phone lines to call back home to the states for a few minutes. We exchanged gag gifts and real ones. We developed friendships that were very temporal, people came and went, assignments overlapping for six months or a year. But we always picked up new friendships quickly, shared holidays and other events, and then moved on to the next assignment when it was time. Part of that was also eventually losing touch – a card would come back undeliverable, a phone number didn’t work anymore. Nineteen years ago when I left the service the World Wide Web and email were new to all of us. Facebook didn’t exist. LinkedIn hadn’t been dreamt of yet.
A tiny counterpoint to my colleague Dan Cohen, whose piece ran just before Christmas, I love that these tools are putting us back in touch with people from our past. My friends’ children are now college graduates. Colleagues have retired, started second careers, gone back to school and changed careers entirely. And we have a chance to connect again. During the holidays I love to reach out to my friends, using this new social media, to reconnect even a little bit, or to schedule time to get together whenever our travels let us cross paths wherever we are now.
Happy Holidays to all my Air Force colleagues, I can’t wait to connect with you again if we haven’t already.