…Navy and Santa Claus partner up for global X-ercise
By Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Joe Kane / Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, Public Affairs
My 10-year old son came running up as I pulled into the driveway of my residence in Navy housing after work today. “Daddy!” he said, waving a brightly colored package in front of his face, there was an early elf! Can we open it?!” he pleaded, almost hitting me in the face with the rectangular box.
First, let me explain; in our house an “early elf” means one of Santa’s little helpers has delivered an Xmas package early. I started this tradition while assigned to a ship several years ago when I found out I would be on duty Xmas day, and would not be home with the family. Nothing unusual about that for a Sailor… I’ve been in the Navy more than 21 years, and missing birthdays and holidays and other family events is kind of the norm. It probably didn’t help that I served on sea duty and overseas for the first 19 years of my career. But, with a child at home now, especially one old enough to realize that “daddy isn’t home for the holidays,” it felt different. So now, two to three times in December, leading up to Xmas, we get an early elf delivery at our door. By spreading the gifts and celebration over the entire month it takes away the sting of me being absent for any one day.
This particular elf was to be a bit of a disappointment for my son, who is always hoping the package will contain legos or robots or the latest superhero action figure. Those are the early elf packages I usually arrange. This package had been sent by someone else, and meant much more to me than to my son.
As I scanned the return address, I knew immediately who it was from and what it was… and a bit later decided I wanted to write this public “thank you” to everyone who takes a moment to remember those of us who will stand a watch while Santa flies around the globe.
About five years ago I was assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in San Diego as the ship’s public affairs officer. One day I got an email from a gentleman named Steve Tomaselli, from somewhere in Ohio. He asked if he, and some members of his church could send Xmas cards to the ship during the holidays. I answered that it would be fine, and many Sailors would appreciate the gesture. What I did not know at the time was that Steve and his group has adopted several ships, and regularly sends notes and cards, numbering, I can only guess, in the hundreds if not thousands every year. Many of those cards are hand made by the children in Steve’s church group. And that is exactly what was in my early elf package.
My son took out some of the cards, which included nativity scenes in construction paper, crayon Xmas trees and stuff like that, and asked who they came from. I told him they were from people nearly all the way across the country and they were for the Sailors at my command, in appreciation for serving our country.
I told him about Steve and his group, and then my son asked; “why do they do it?”
Just as an aside; every year when I receive Steve’s cards and letters I send out a message to the other Sailors where I work and ask if anyone would like to take one of the cards and write back to the person who made it. I am always amazed by how many Sailors volunteer to do this! Within the first couple of hours, without fail the cards have been snatched up, and some Sailors even trade off cards and write back to several of the kids. I even had one person write to 21 different kids from the fourth grade, answering questions and just saying hello, and thanks for the cards.
So when I looked at my son I had to answer his question, “Why do they do it?” I wanted to answer in the most honest way possible.
I told him I believe there are probably many reasons. Some people really are just saying “thanks for serving.” Others may feel they want to do their part, show their support, or maybe some have military backgrounds or even family members in the military, and know how tough it can be to be away from loved ones during the holidays. But overall, I said, I think people like that understand that we are all in this together, and that the military represents the common goal of keeping America safe and strong. Writing the cards and letters is a way of connecting and trying to help out, and it probably makes them feel good to do it.
After hearing my explanation, which I thought may have been too long or wordy for my son, he shuffled through several more cards and then carefully put them back in the box and handed them to me. “Well, it makes sense then,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“I guess that’s also why Santa let one of his elves deliver these early,” he said. He probably wants to help out too.”
I’m not sure if I saw a wink… my son is still at that age where, if he knows “the truth” about Santa he hasn’t openly admitted it yet. Maybe he just wants to make sure his Xmas list is honored.
I took the box of cards and put it on the front seat of my truck. Tomorrow I’ll share them with Sailors, like I’ve done for the past several years. Elves or not, it seems there will always be a little Xmas spirit in the Navy as long as there are people like Steve out there doing their part to make sure all of us have a safe and happy holiday.
Thanks Steve and Happy Holidays!