A Soldier’s Christmas

The heroes of our country are not the ones of the silver screen or the mass media. They are  the teachers, the ones working behind the counter at Home Depot, the mother tirelessly taking care of her children . They are also the men and women serving in the armed forces protecting us. I am not affiliated with the military, but I do have relatives that serve and I’ve seen the sacrifices necessary and the hardships that are borne. Those that serve are given honor out of deep gratitude for the sacrifices they make for our country.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of a hero is “A person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities or just plainly a person that is greatly admired.” Other definitions expand  to include someone who behaves selflessly, which means that actions are done usually under the circumstances of considerable personal risk and sacrifice. These actions are done a on a daily basis to help our fellow men.

The following is an interview conducted with highly decorated veteran Colonel Vance Nannini on Wednesday October 28th, 2015, on his insights on a soldier’s Christmas and the importance of his faith.

(For more information about Colonel Nannini go tohttp://www.wmich.edu/rotc/nannini)


Q:What did it mean as a soldier to celebrate Christmas abroad?


A: For me personally, I was always busy enough so it never really bothered me. When you’re home, the army makes a big deal out of the holidays. This is done to the effect that one takes the simple things and family life much more serious and holidays become that much more special. The traditions are important but when your deployed, Thanksgiving is the big army tradition.

Christmas is less [it was made clear not for religious reasons as he stated that “the army is ecumenical in that sense”], so in terms of big traditions because Christmas is harder on the younger soldiers because this is a huge adjustment for them as it is their first time away from their families for a prolonged period of time without much contact.

Making a big deal out of Christmas for the younger soldiers had almost a sort of negative impact because by making a big deal out of it the soldiers missed it more as people were given time to reflect on what they were missing.

When I had my battalion at Kosama, during Christmas of 2001, I gave them a training day. This is because my experience on other occasions that if i just let the soldiers sit around on Christmas they tend to become sad and homesick dwelling on the fact that it’s Christmas.

There is a great movie called Apocalypse Now in which there is a great scene that’s not necessarily a holiday but rather the actors are on a beach, and the narrator says “ the more they try to make it like home, the more and more people tend to miss it.” So my view on it was you respect the holiday as a holy day, as I am a practicing Catholic, and go to mass, but the worst thing you can do is have the day off and dwell on what you’re missing.


Q: When you were back stateside, what traditions did you celebrate with your family?


A: The holidays were always important in that I was very fortunate in that when I can through organizations were moving more and more to block leave which is a leave of permission to be away from one’s unit for a specific period of time . So we would rotate around Christmas and other holidays because the whole unit couldn’t be away all at once, so we would rotate and share. You have to spread the wealth and you make it easier to plan.

Under normal circumstances, all personnel are granted 30 days of leave per year. This time is usually used for vacations and other extended time periods away from the service that are longer than three days or need to be taken in the middle of the week. With my family, sometimes you would travel, sometimes you would come back to Michigan so all in all , it was “a regular Christmas” experience [chuckling]. You just recognize that you cherished the time you had more because you wouldn’t know what would be happening the next year if you would have the opportunity to be with your family.


Q: How has a life of service to your country impacted your faith?


A: Significantly, you appreciate things a lot more and you don’t take things for granted. You try always to provide times to reflect on what’s your purpose. Some people take life for granted, but your time on earth is truly extremely short. So my faith helps me live my life to the fullest. Eternity is a long time, so you try to always make your decisions ethically based so the faith that helps. You can’t go through a life of service and not do something because its against a regulation, but you try to let the faith be your guide to help you make the most ethical decisions possible.


Q: Is there one memory where your faith played a crucial role in a decision?


A: Not necessarily, but more just approaching life. Pope Francis has brought this back: that we need to approach life with and attitude of love. So when you approach your decisions from a perspective of love for your common man, your faith guides you. I follow this saying: “ If your heart is pure you can do no wrong.” I don’t go into a situation angry or with ulterior motives – I go solely on what is right and just.” When you truly make these decisions that is a huge foundation.

I truly follow suite to no man left behind. What makes war so hard is that you have to watch what you love be destroyed, and my faith helps get me through these trials. I have watched soldiers and my best friends fall in combat, and the things that get me through are my family, the fellow soldier, and, most importantly, my faith.