The holiday for soldiers in Afghanistan

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Audio Transcript:

Ben Gilbert was embedded with US troops in southern Afghanistan. He reports on the soldiers who are there for Christmas ? and the lucky few who get to go home for the holiday.

MARCO WERMAN: It's probably safe to say that none of the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is delighted to be there on Christmas Day, but at least some are enjoying a bit of holiday cheer. Ben Gilbert was embedded with the Fourth Infantry Division's First Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment when he sent us this report from southern Afghanistan.

BEN GILBERT: The staging area at Forward Operating Base Wilson is a dusty, barren place where the soldiers from the 633rd engineering company, out of Fort Drum, New York, park and ready their vehicles before every mission. These guys have one of the most boring and dangerous jobs in Afghanistan; finding IEDs or roadside bombs. And this motor pool is about as far away from holiday cheer as you can get. But then a soldier named Michael Rand, from Syracuse darts back and forth among the vehicles offering cookies from a big plastic bag.

MICHAEL RAND: They're sour cream drop. My wife sends me out packages every month.

GILBERT: Rand is not exactly joyful that he's spending the holidays in Afghanistan. ?You're not happy about here for Christmas, are you?

RAND: No, I'm not really happy about being here for Christmas, but you do what you've gotta do.

GILBERT: And that includes doing a little holiday decorating at the base. The engineering company's commander, Captain Christopher Burkhart of Clarkesville, Tennessee, points down the line of massive armored vehicles.

CAPTAIN CHRISTOPHER BURKHART: I think one of our vehicles in this patrol has a little wreath on the front. They're into the holiday spirit, and they want to celebrate too.

GILBERT: The combat hospital at FOB Wilson has Christmas lights on the entrance. One unit has a giant blow up snowman stuck to the top of their tent. But some soldiers don't have to manufacture holiday cheer; they'll be going home. This is the sound of a helicopter landing to pick up homebound soldiers. They were lucky enough to get their annual mandatory two-week leave this month.

SOLDIER: This is a leave brief.

GILBERT: Before departing, every soldier has to go through the leave brief. It's usually mundane army stuff. You can only take a certain size bag, wear the right uniform, and don't embarrass yourself.

SOLDIER: Don't go to bars looking for women. If you're not married, don't do that. If you do meet a chick in the club and she tells you no, it means no. If her hips say yes, and she says no, it still means no. Just basically, common sense guys. I mean, don't be that guy drinking, and driving, don't do that. Are there are any questions?

GILBERT: Twenty-two-year-old Timothy Eickmeier is a soldier with the 112 infantry scheduled to return for the holidays. He's from Blythwood, South Carolina, and he knows exactly what he wants when he gets home.

TIMOTHY EICKMEIER: A cold beer. Most definitely a cold beer.

GILBERT: So you're just gonna go home, take it easy, kind of get back into the normal home life?

EICKMEIER: There is no normal home life any more after being out at place like this. After being here, you're always gonna have in the back of the mind that it's a warzone, so you're always gonna have those extra, I guess, reflexes or instincts, as far as how you're gonna survive back home. You will bring this back with you.

GILBERT: Another soldier with the 112, Sergeant Thomas Compton of Buffalo, Missouri, says it's not always easy going on leave.

SERGEANT THOMAS COMPTON: I get a little anxious sometimes because just adjusting usually takes a couple weeks for me. But by the time I'm done with leave, I'm used to home, so I come back here, and it's time to adjust again.

GILBERT: The downside of leave is coming back. But one of those who won't be coming back any time soon is Captain Christopher Burkhart, from the route clearance company, who we heard from earlier. He was on his last patrol before finishing his yearlong tour. He was headed home not only for Christmas, but an even bigger gift.

BURKHART: I've got a newborn back home was born on the 20th of November, and I've been excited to go home. It's a baby girl. Her name is Laura. So I feel happy. I just hope I get out of here, and make all the connecting flights to get home and be home for Christmas.

GILBERT: As of the last report, Captain Burkhart made it home for Christmas. For the World, I'm Ben Gilbert, Forward Operating Base Wilson, southern Afghanistan.