During my 31 years in the Navy, I was deployed or stationed overseas during the holidays nine times. And I loved every minute of it!!
Now, some of you may wonder why I loved being far from loved ones during the one time of the year when family is highlighted, and the only answer I can come up with was that deep down inside of me it just felt right. To me, I was with “family.” I was with my platoon and/or working with fellow servicemembers, doing whatever job I was assigned in defense of the greatest country in the world. What can be more noble or honorable? To me, absolutely nothing!!
Now there were indeed some perks to being deployed or stationed overseas during the holidays. The “care packages” from home and friends were more frequent and often contained a bit more of the goodies we couldn’t get overseas. Additionally, the base morale and recreational leadership worked tirelessly to make us all feel like we were home, adorning the base facilities and buildings with a plethora of holiday decorations, frills and wintery trim! Extra attention was always given to the dining facility, where there was no shortage of wintery bells and whistles displayed, and never was one lacking for great food and holiday sweets!! Even when I was deployed to Iraq or the Philippines, there were times when I actually felt I was somewhere up north, waiting to hit the slopes.
I vividly remember one Christmas in Bahrain, when one of my department heads came to my office and stated there was a pallet of Girl Scout cookies delivered to us, and wanted to know what to do with all the cookies. God bless the Girl Scouts! When I stated I couldn’t believe it, I went outside only to find one standard USAF cargo pallet (approximately 9 feet long and 7 feet wide) stacked approximately 5 foot high full of various cookies!! When I saw it, my initial thought was that I had died and gone to heaven, since anyone who knows me knows that there isn’t a cake/cookie/doughnut made that I don’t like! Once I got over my sugary shock, I directed my department head to distribute a fair share of boxes to our fellow command members, and then ship the remainder of the boxes to the troops located forward.
As a leader, I felt it was vitally important that I devoted extra attention to the morale of my subordinates and co-workers during the holidays, many who did not feel the same as I did, but ultimately recognized that being overseas was part of the job. I did my best to ensure that every member of my command had a place to go for a holiday dinner, and we even had “White Elephant” type of gift exchanges so that every command member got a present of some kind. These simple events were critical to individual morale and command “espirit de corps,” and helped to take away a little bit of the natural loneliness folks felt being far away from home.
Coach’s tip for this month: Send a “care package” overseas to a deployed servicemember! Many local veteran’s organizations/agencies do this during the holiday season. Reach out to one of them and see what you can do. It is invaluable!
Also, recognize the families of deployed service members. The holidays are naturally a stressful time for most, but think of the added worry of those having a loved one deployed to some remote location, helping to keep this country and its citizens safe. It’s not easy. Thank them and make sure they are doing OK!
Happy Holidays! See you in 2018!
CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, USN (Ret), retired from the Navy in 2014 after 31 years of distinguished service in the Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) community. He has served on all SEAL teams on both coasts, including the famed SEAL Team SIX. Coach completed graduate studies at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, receiving an M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies and also completed a course of instruction in Spanish at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. Coach graduated from West Virginia University with a B.S. in Business Administration and was a member of the Men’s Swim Team for 4 years. Coach Havlik is a Special Advisor to Giant Leap Consulting and regularly speaks about leadership and working as a team under arduous and stressful conditions.