It was decided last night that seeing I have the lowest position, I would be the one to find a Christmas tree. I chuckle to myself wondering if this country has anything resembling a real “Christmas” type tree. My heavy coat soon becomes almost too hot and I unzip it to let some sub-zero dry air inside. To sweat out here could be fatal, or so I have been warned.
It’s my first Christmas away from my home town and my forgiving family. I chuckle again looking at my gloved hands. 3 years ago, no one at home would believe that the town hellion would be so far from his home town. 3 years ago, most everyone thought I would be in prison.
“I need to find a Christmas tree,” I mumble and shift my burden to my shoulders. It is bitterly cold and they said there wasn’t much chance I would encounter trouble, but they are back at base camp and safe and I am out here by myself.
It’s one thing to talk tough on the street, but when it is for real and the bad guy would just as soon hang your head on a trophy pole, it brings it into perspective. I hear a stick crack and at this altitude it sounds like a gunshot. I drop down on one knee and feel the adrenaline shoot through me like a hemi-powered hotrod. Totally unaware of my presence a white fox dashes out from under a scrub bush and chases a white rabbit past me.
I slowly exhale, not realizing I was holding my breath. Yea, my homies should see me now. Out here thousands of miles from home looking for a Christmas tree has a whole new meaning to being tough. I’m not tough – I’m scared. I was tough, or thought I was, but I really had no clue. Being tough has nothing to do with a person’s ability to fight. Being tough is more of a spiritual battle than what can be done with your fists.
That’s really why I am out here by myself. Because of my faith in God, I wanted a tree to express his birthday and finally I was granted my wish. “If you want one so bad young fella, go out and get one.” The guys are all seasoned men and I guess, religious to an extent and what he said wasn’t a command. I know that. One by one they nod at me and I realize they too would like to see a tree. They just don’t want to possibly risk their life or go out in the cold to get one.
We’ve been on this lonely mountain for 3 long weeks and the weather has us socked in or we would have been extracted by now. We are simply waiting it out. I read the small Bible each night and our team leader ignores me, as we are under strict guidelines to not have one in-country. I just couldn’t live without it and I guess he knows that.
I chuckle again thinking about what the judge told me 3 years ago. “Son, you better turn your life around, because the next time you are here will be the last time I am lenient.” I was 17 and soon to have a birthday. Becoming 18 years old makes me accountable and the 11 times I have been arrested already made me known to every cop in town. Now I am getting colder by the minute and every little noise has me almost jumping out of my skin.
Who knew being with this outfit would mean I would be on a mountaintop thousands of miles from home on Christmas looking for a tree? There! I see it! I work my way over a small ridge to a copse of boulders. There in the middle is a small evergreen type bush about 3 feet tall. Removing my gloves, I extract my serrated blade and begin to saw at the base. As I work on it, I spy a slight movement across the narrow gorge.
There, seated by a very small fire is a foreign soldier with his rifle pointed directly at me. I freeze, as my rifle is on the ground beside me. The young man is about my age and his beard is scraggly and bare, as is mine. Being in Special Forces allows me the privilege of not shaving – just like this guy. I’d be lying if I said I’m not scared, but the look on his face is the same as the one on mine.
He stares at me and I at him. We are not more than a hundred feet apart and then – he smiles. He leans forward setting the rifle down and holds a skewer of meat over his small fire and I ever so slowly return to getting my small tree cut down. He points at the sky and then at me and I nod. I stand very slowly letting out my breath and carefully sling my rifle over my shoulder. Grabbing my tree, I take one last look at the young enemy soldier and pointing at the sky, I point at him. Seeing him nod, I head back to camp to observe the birth of the Christ child with my fellow Christian soldiers.