Deployed Soldier Shares Holiday Heirloom in Afghanistan
By Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 10, 2008 - A deployed soldier here is getting a taste of home for the holidays, just as his father did 40 years earlier.
The small, artificial Christmas tree on Army Col. Roger Nell's desk is the same one his father displayed on his desk in 1967. Since then, the tree has served alongside father or son on three wartime missions and six Christmas deployments.
"My wife has sent me the tree this year, as is tradition," Nell, command judge advocate with Task Force Warrior, said.
Nell's mother, Ramona, bought the tree in 1967 at the Panama Canal Zone post exchange for her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Nell, who was serving in the Vietnam War. In early November, Ramona sent the tree, decorated with hard candies, to her husband at the public information office in Saigon, where the sergeant handled the credentialing of news media.
"Our little tree has been a source of joy for our family and a way to be together when [we're] so many miles apart," Robert Nell said.
In 1969, Ramona sent the tree on its second deployment to a hostile zone; her husband was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group Thailand in Bangkok. Robert Nell worked in the protocol office, coordinating visits with elected officials, including then-President Richard M. Nixon.
"At the time, I never knew how many lives would be touched by the joy this little tree radiated over the next few decades," Robert said.
The tree stayed stateside until 1992, when Ramona sent it to her son, who was deployed to South Camp, Sinai, Egypt. The next year, Nell's mother again sent her son the tree, this time to Camp Howze, South Korea, while he served with the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service and the 2nd Infantry Division.
The tree deployed for its second wartime mission in 2003. Nell's wife, Rhonda, sent the tree to Qayarah Airfield, Iraq, where Nell was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This year marks the third wartime deployment for the tree. A pair of scissors sits beneath the tree in Nell's office. He welcomes all visitors to his office to cut off a piece of the tree as a holiday souvenir and a symbol of a shared experience with the Nell family.
"My prayer for the tree is for it to be allowed permanent retirement after this Christmas mission so that neither of my children will receive this tree in a foreign land from their mother," Nell said.
(Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens serves in the Task Force Warrior public affairs office.