Story of the Christmas stocking, how it reached a Gryphon Soldier in the Philippines
U.S. Army story by Staff Sgt. Kyle Larsen, 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade
Holiday gift exchanges, family gatherings, sipping cocoa around a yule log are all traditions as old as time that have grown to bring a rush of joy to millions of people around the world, creating an atmosphere of delight and selflessness not experienced through most of the year. In 2002, a new tradition was born out of an unlikely friendship that started in Paris.
In March 2002, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Scott, a former military intelligence officer, was in Paris with colleagues from the Command and General Staff College (CGSC), as part of a 10-day elective program that partnered with the French Army. The program sends U.S. students from the CGSC to France’s comparative school to study in exchange for French students to attend CGSC.
“When we were at Charles de Gaulle Airport waiting to board our return flight, I’m reading the paper as the flight’s final call is echoing over the intercom and a few feet away I notice a brunette woman breathing heavily after racing to the gate,” said Scott, who now resides Lacey, Washington. “I later found that the woman was Margaret Hinojosa-Garza, a fashion buyer for Nordstrom’s Seattle, who was in Paris for the Spring fashion shows. Though our professional backgrounds could not have been more different, we developed a friendship after a mutual friend reconnected us a few weeks after the flight.”
In 2003, while Scott was deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) he received several care packages from Hinojosa-Garza, who was also a former seamstress. Around Christmas that year, Scott received another care package, but this time there was a surprise inside along with various gifts intended to brighten the day of an old friend.
“When I opened the package there was a hand-made desert pattern stocking inside,” said Scott. “On the front of the stocking were sewn-on patches: a U.S. Army name tape, the American flag, airborne wings and the 101st [Airborne Division (Air Assault)] patch. The back of the stocking was faux leopard print material, which I thought was hilarious.”
Out of this unexpected gift, grew a new and thoughtful tradition. As Scott returned from his tour overseas, he thought of ways to continue the goodwill and pay it forward. The solution found him. A friend, 1st Lt. Jeanne Hull, was deployed to Iraq during the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.
Knowing Hull would be deployed over the holidays, Scott commenced “Operation Santa’s Stocking”. He sent the care package containing the stocking filled with holiday candy and insulated with deployment mainstays, such as wet wipes, beef jerky, hygiene items and other gifts that weren’t available on base. The only request in return for this kind gesture, the recipient affixes their unit patch on the stocking and returns it to Scott upon their redeployment to the U.S.
After a 5-year hiatus, the stocking found Scott yet again during his 2009 deployment to Afghanistan. Having brightened his Christmas again, Scott revived the tradition and over the course of the stocking’s now 19-year existence, it has spent 12 Christmases overseas, including the past seven consecutive Christmases.
This year the stocking made its way to the first enlisted recipient since the establishment of the tradition, Staff Sgt. Acea Hindbaugh, assigned to 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade and deployed to the Philippines. Once Hindbaugh is back in the U.S., he will attach the 201st EMIB patch to the retro pattern Army Christmas stocking, bringing the total unit patches to 12.
“The stocking is not designated for Soldiers of a certain rank; it is open to any Soldier out of the country over the holidays,” said Scott, who is no stranger to deployments with four over his 28-year career. “Between my wife and I, we have deployed seven times. We understand the hardships of being away from friends and family during the holidays. We just want to continue to pay it forward.”