How a single Christmas tree brought the spirit of the holidays to a deployed unit
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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, we speak with Army veteran, national speaker, and acclaimed author of the 2017 Independent Publishing Award-winning book The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11, Marjorie K. Eastman.
Eastman is also an accomplished executive and operational professional with over 20-years experience in leading people and various organizations.
Her award-winning book began as a personal memoir for her son. Eastman's goal was to capture the lessons and inspirations she learned serving beside men and women who represent the very best of what it means to be American — the 1% of the population in the military.
She respectfully identifies this group as the Frontline Generation and notes that it is an untapped reservoir of leaders who have been strengthened by their Post 9/11 service.
Christmas Lights All Year
"Can someone please tell me why in the hell this big-ass box is still cluttering the entryway to the CP?"
It was early in the morning, and I was standing in the front part of my company's command post (CP), staring at a box that was just over six feet tall (a height I can quickly surmise since I am six feet tall). This designated area was meant for my soldiers, as it was an "orderly mess" of numerous bins, all of which were overflowing with freebies from countless care packages. At any hour of the day, soldiers could stop by and grab extra soap, snacks, toothbrushes—you name it. While deployed, my unit received an abundance of care packages that were crammed with just about anything and everything—and the CP was beginning to be littered with boxes, especially since we were approaching the month of December.
It was Sergeant Marco Vasquez who popped his head over his computer, my quiet, stellar NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) sergeant who was also my driver on several convoys. He probably was swearing underneath his breath that he was the unlucky one, the only person in the office to answer my cranky question. My headquarters team caught on quickly that I was the most unpleasant after my morning beatings from Battalion, where I had to give my company's daily battlefield update briefs, and on top of that, I was currently embroiled in an unnecessary battle over my company's combat patch ceremony.
"Yes, ma'am. I think First Sergeant said it was a care package that was simply addressed to HHC." Top walked into the CP at that moment, a to-go breakfast plate in hand, not missing a beat. "Good morning, ma'am. Yes, we still need to open it and see if we can identify the individual it belongs to, or if it is just a care package meant for the company."
I instantly had a flashback of those damn duffels and tough boxes that were left at the reserve center back in Texas—for years! To put it lightly, I was annoyed that it had already sat there for several days. So I grabbed the box, which was leaning against the wall, and I laid it on the ground. With one quick slice along the taped seam from my Benchmade knife, the smell of a fresh evergreen tree burst from the box and engulfed the room.
"What in the hell?" I wondered out loud. With Top and Sergeant Vasquez peering over my shoulder, I unwrapped a live, six-foot-tall Douglas fir Christmas tree. The more and more I breathed in that glorious smell—an absolutely foreign fragrance on Bagram Airfield—I was overcome with joy and peace. I turned around to see that this tree was also having the same effect on Top and Vasquez—both had sloppy grins ear-to-ear.
Once we stood it up, and began to loosen the boughs, a card dropped to the floor. I picked it up, and read, "To the Soldiers of HHC, enjoy this reminder of home during the Christmas season. Take care, (signed) Charles Eastman." My husband had sent the live Christmas tree, the piece of home, and gifted it to my soldiers. He was wise enough to include a tree stand, tree skirt, and numerous strings of Christmas lights.
Charles knew all too well what it felt like to be deployed over the holidays, considering he had spent the past two Christmases in Iraq. This was our third consecutive Christmas in which one of us was serving in combat; outside of our family and close friends, not many people knew this. Thus, his gesture meant so much more . . .
To read more, you can purchase a copy of The Frontline Generation online at Amazon, Barnes Noble, or signed and personalized copies available at www.thefrontlinegeneration.com.
Related: How the US Air Force tricked CSAF McPeak into staying in the military
In this episode, we talk on a wide range of topics, including:
- [2:00] The reason why this acclaimed author decided to join the military.
- [7:25] Eastman explains how she received her direct Army officer commissioning.
- [11:50] What gave Eastman the motivation to move forward and write her now acclaimed book.
- [16:10] The story behind why Eastman smiled at a drill sergeant during boot camp
- [20:30] What helps define a strong female presence in a leadership position.
- [25:00] What veteran stories Eastman loves to tell during her public speaking events.
- [31:15] The complete explain behind the story "Yes, man. No, man."
To continue following Eastman's public appearances and other work, be sure check out her website: marjoriekeastman.com
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Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor
Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator
Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer