The War on Christmas: Praying for Military Families

From the Middle East to the Korean Peninsula, U.S. troops are risking their lives to defend our freedom.

U.S. Army Special Operations soldiers conduct .50 caliber weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in Syria on November 22, 2017.

By Tom Sileo Published on December 15, 2017

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Brabander was killed in a vehicle accident in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province earlier this week. He was just 24 years old.

“Just yesterday, we were reminded of the constant danger our United States, coalition and Afghan partners are in every day here in Afghanistan,” U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch said in a statement on Tuesday. “We send our most heartfelt condolences to his family.”

In an excellent piece by Anchorage Daily News reporter Lisa Demer, we learned that Staff Sgt. Brabander “really believed in the cause that he was fighting for,” according to his sister, Brittany Hunnings.

The fallen soldier’s grieving sibling also relayed a message to the world from her brother: “We are a people.”

It’s impossible to imagine the pain that Brittany and her family will experience over the holidays and beyond. Just last week, a Gold Star mother who lost her son in Afghanistan gave me a window into how war can permanently change an American family.

“People keep telling me that I should feel proud,” she said. “But all I feel is pain.”

For 865 weeks since the invasion of Afghanistan, our nation’s military community has shouldered the excruciating burdens of war. While the struggle in Afghanistan has been constant, thousands of U.S. troops will also spend Christmas in hotspots like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Niger and the volatile Korean peninsula.

Instead of enjoying Christmas Eve with carefree anticipation, as many of us do, imagine being worried about receiving a dreadful knock on the door. It happened to Nikki Altmann, who lost her husband, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann, six years ago on Christmas Day.

“Every day is a constant reminder of what I had, what I was going to have, and what is no more,” the young Gold Star widow told me.

The purpose of this column is not to make you feel guilty about rejoicing over the holidays with your family. It is to remind all Americans – many of whom are increasingly distracted by smartphones, celebrity gossip and political bickering – that thousands of miles away and largely out of the limelight, our freedom is being defended.

On the Korean peninsula, the threat of conventional, chemical and even nuclear war is so real that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina recently urged thousands of U.S. military families to leave.

“South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour,” the Republican senator told CBS’ Face the Nation on December 3. “It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea.”

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In the Middle East and Africa, we don’t know exactly how many U.S. troops are fighting ISIS, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, but we do know that the threat is real. As demonstrated by last week’s bomb attack in New York, terrorists continue to target Americans. No one faces that risk more often than our brave men and women in uniform overseas.

As civilians, I believe our most important wartime duty is not just saying we support our troops, but paying attention to their sacrifices and praying for their safety. Sharing patriotic Facebook memes on Memorial Day, July 4th and Veterans Day is nice, but praying for our service members, veterans and their families on a daily basis – when no one is watching – is even more powerful.

On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who made history’s ultimate sacrifice for love and peace. To me, that makes this the most fitting time of year to honor and remember the brave men and women who are willing to lay down their lives in defense of the defenseless.

This holiday season, I will remember the words of Staff Sgt. David Brabander: “we are a people.” The sooner we unite in support of our troops, veterans and their families, the sooner our Christmas prayers for peace, including one by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, will be answered.

“Loving Father of the human family, as we celebrate once more the birth of Jesus, your Son, we marvel at your love for us. Give us the grace to hear more deeply and live more fully the promise of peace proclaimed by the angels that first Christmas. We lift up to your loving providence all who live in the shadow of death and violence, especially those who work for freedom, justice, and peace in Iraq and in the lands where Jesus once walked.

Heavenly Father, may the reconciling love of Christ, your Son, truly dwell in our hearts and homes, making us ever-more open to His presence among us. In Jesus’ name we pray.



Tom Sileo is co-author of 8 Seconds of Courage: A Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor. He can be followed on Twitter @TSileo.

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  • Dean Bruckner

    Thanks, Tom, a great reminder! We have a military family on our block; I’ll talk to my wife to see what we can do to show them our appreciation.

  • sleddogs1

    Christmas sucks.

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