CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq- Soldiers from many different backgrounds and cultures come together to serve in the Army, and one of the times each year where their traditions are most evident is during the Christmas season.

Troopers assigned to the 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, recently joined the Long Knife unit ministry team at Contingency Operating Site Marez, here, to observe Advent, a practice dating back hundreds of years in the Christian faith.

"Advent is something Christians observe all over the world," said Chaplain (Maj.) Mike Patterson, 4th AAB, 1st Cav. Div. "Its observance is about more than just missing Family. It unites Christians in spirit as they observe the Christmas season no matter where they are."

Advent is marked by the four Sundays preceding Christmas. There are several traditions associated with its observance with the lighting of candles being prevalent among them.

"We are observing Advent with the use of four different candles symbolizing different sentiments," Paterson, a native of Vero Beach, Fla., said. "Each Sunday we light an additional candle with all four candles symbolizing joy, peace, hope and love. On Christmas, we will light the fifth and final candle to symbolize the coming of Christ."

Soldiers and civilians from COS Marez were eager to participate in Advent services. Many of them do not observe Advent as a part of the celebration of Christmas in their own Families but had the opportunity to see how meaningful it is to others.

"I'm really not familiar with it," said 1st Sgt. Ricardo Luera, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th AAB, 1st Cav. Div. "I see it as a traditional practice among some of my Soldiers."

Sgt. Greg MacKinnon, a civil affairs specialist assigned to the 412th Civil Affairs Planning Team, is more familiar with it. "My Family didn't observe it growing up, but through my wife, who is Catholic, I learned more about it," said the native of Columbus, Ohio. "It's special to me because it brings me closer to my wife and the traditions in her faith."

Advent is just one way 4th AAB, 1st Cav. Div., Soldiers will celebrate Christmas this year. Soldiers will do their best to stay connected in spite of being deployed thousands of miles away from their Families.

"Christ is the focus of my Family's Christmas celebrations," said Luera, a native of Edinburgh, Texas. "We usually open presents just after midnight, and we definitely go to church. This year I'll be connected to them through Skype as they open presents and I get to see the happiness on their faces through the webcam."

Since the Long Knife Brigade's inception in 2005, the brigade has deployed to Iraq three times and spent three Christmases away from their Families. They are now serving in Iraq for a one-year deployment in support of Operation New Dawn.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16