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Military Families Send Holiday Greetings to Loved Ones Overseas

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. In spite of the war’s tragedies, Lincoln said, Americans had much to be thankful for. Today is Thanksgiving, and military families are trying to count their blessings, while loved ones fight a war overseas. One program is helping those families stay in touch during the holiday season. KPBS Radio’s Andrew Phelps has more.

Amy Wilder: Talk to the camera and say, Hi, Daddy.

MacKenzie Wilder: Hi, Daddy.

Amy Wilder: You wanna sing him your song?

MacKenzie Wilder: Twinkle, twinkle, little star…

This is four-year-old MacKenzie, and her mom, Amy Wilder. They’re in a makeshift TV studio at Camp Pendleton, recording a message for Daddy. “Daddy” is Staff Sgt. Matt Wilder, a Marine deployed to Iraq.

Amy Wilder:  Hey, babe, we miss you, we love you, we can’t wait for you to come home. Um, we know you’re doing your job over there, but we wish you were here for the holidays. MacKenzie misses you. Talk to Daddy.

MacKenzie Wilder: Daddy, I love you, and I want you to come home. 

Amy Wilder: It’s okay, baby.

A program called “Operation Best Wishes” gives families like the Wilders free screen time and then sends their greetings to troops over the Internet. The program doesn’t just help service members cope with tough deployments. It helps the families. This is Amy Wilder’s first Thanksgiving without her husband.

Amy Wilder: Thanksgiving is Thursday. Our eight-year wedding anniversary is Friday, so it’s like a double whammy. But you know we’re going to be doing Thanksgiving with our neighbors, who, you know, they’ve been there through the holidays with their husbands deployed so they’ve taken us in to spend it with their families, which is kind of like what Marine Corps families do. We all stick together and take care of our own.

One of those Marine families is Amy Leach and her son Andrew. They recorded their own video message for Dad: Gunnery Sgt. David Leach, who’s in Fallujah.

Amy Leach: We just really love and miss you. And we can’t wait till you come home. We hope pretty soon that you’ll have a date that you can tell us about instead of just beating around the bush all the time when you’re on the phone with us.

Young Andrew Leach says he doesn’t watch the news anymore. He hates the news.

Andrew Leach: I just don’t know what’s happening out there. And I don’t really want to know.

The Leach family has put up with many deployments over the past 15 years. But never over the holidays.

Amy Leach: It’s okay. Everybody has to do their turn, and we understand that, so, there’s lots of younger ones who have been there three and four times. So, it’s our turn.

“Operation Best Wishes” is traveling to bases across the country for the holidays. About 200 families have taken part so far.

Walt Laskos: It  helps soothe the pain of being separated. It’s like a sweet piece of candy during that deployment.

That’s Walt Laskos, who created the program three years ago. Since then, Laskos says a number of other companies have sprung up with technology to connect military families – a dozen or so time zones apart.

Karina Salinas longs for her partner, Naval Petty Officer Alexander Luna. Their daughter Nadia was just two weeks old when Luna left for the Gulf.

Karina Salinas: It’s tough over the holidays. You see other families going Christmas shopping and you see other families going to church together and stuff and you feel like a part of you missing because they’re not here with you.

Salinas says she has a lot of parties to plan for Luna’s homecoming in March: Two birthdays, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. For KPBS, I’m Andrew Phelps.

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