CHRISTMAS IN BAGRAM FOR SOLDIERS FROM DURHAM
Antonio Stringham has spent most of his Christmases at work. Last year, he was making his rounds as a Durham police officer, stopping to admire the decorated houses along Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard.
This year, he’ll be making his rounds as a military police officer in Bagram Airfield, the largest military base in Afghanistan.
Stringham, 26, is one of more than 200 N.C. National Guard service members deployed to either Kuwait, Egypt or Afghanistan this Christmas. They’ll wish their friends happy holidays over Facebook or Skype with their families on Christmas Eve.
They’ll light a Christmas tree or make Christmas cards with their units, or sit down for a special Christmas dinner at the dining facility. They always plan for their base to receive indirect fire during American holidays.
Staff Sgt. Stringham is in the Army National Guard’s 210th Military Police Company. He joined when he was 17 years old, after looking up to a friend’s dad who was an Army Ranger. At the military base, he’ll issue traffic tickets or break up fights or handle small thefts. Thousands of people either call Bagram home or their workplace, whether they’re in different branches of the military, Afghan civilians or contractors.
Stringham said the Durham Police Department has taught him the leadership skills he needs to work through situations while deployed. They allow him to travel west once a month to train in the mountains, where they’ll work on convoy operations or Army communications.
“They’re the same, but completely different worlds,” he said over Skype.
In Bagram, he’ll deal with a couple of calls a day. In Durham, where he patrols District 3, near The Streets at Southpoint, it’s not unusual to receive close to 30 calls in one shift.
He has three more months to go before he’s reunited with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. He was trying to find his wife a Christmas present in the local bazaar, where it’s not uncommon to haggle with Afghans for good prices.
He said he wishes his Durham police squad happy holidays, to keep safe and that he hopes they get to spend time with their loved ones.
“You train to do something for so long and now you finally get to do it, so it’s fulfilling,” Stringham said about his first deployment. “... It’s a life experience. It’s something I can tell my daughter about when she gets older.”
First Lt. Gregory Kelly, 33, is currently serving in the sister unit, the 211th Military Police Company, in Afghanistan. Back home, he works as a detention officer for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, and he’s a 2002 N.C. Central University criminal justice grad.
This is his second deployment, Kelly said over Skype. The first was in Iraq in 2005 with the Marine Corps Reserve. Back then, the wars were hot and the fighting was frequent. Now, they’re handing over operations to the Afghans, preparing for the troop drawdown deadline at the end of 2014.
Kelly will wake up to his alarm, set to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” and start the day with briefings. Then he and his team will run security detail in Bagram, where he interacts with people from around the world.
“The same rules apply as it would with anybody,” Kelly said. “You know, when you generally treat people with respect and treat people how you want to be treated, it really doesn’t matter where you go in the world, people tend to show you that same respect.”
He said different units at the base recently made huge Christmas cards, which included drawings of Darth Vader in a Santa hat and a life-sized Grinch.
Christmas in the States is usually about spending time with his family in Baltimore. He also has a 6-year-old son waiting for him back in Durham, who asked for an Xbox Kinect this Christmas, as well as his friends from Triangle Jiu-Jitsu, whom he stays connected with online.
Kelly said he may be sent home in June, or at the latest, in October. He said the hardest part is being away from family.
“That’s hard no matter who you are,” he said. “But at the positive side of it, you are serving your country. You are doing something very honorable that not everyone does or gets a chance to do or will actually take the time to do in their life, so it’s always something you will always be able to remember forever.”
“Happy Holidays,” he added, sending a message to his family and friends back home. “I miss them, and I’ll be back soon.”