MESSAGE FROM THE FRONT: Christmas by any name
By Col. Randy Fritz

       This will be my second consecutive Christmas in Iraq. During my first tour in Iraq, I made lifelong friends of some Iraqi people. Because of me - or because they were good people - one has been beaten, kidnapped, and held for 2 weeks for $40,000 ransom. Another had his son kidnapped and held for ransom. Two others were served with a written notice that they would be killed if they met with any Americans. The teachers in Tarmiayah are warned to not teach in the schools the coalition soldiers have rebuilt. Vendors are not allowed to sell even a pack of cigarettes to soldiers for fear of death. A young man whose only crime was to schedule meeting rooms for Iraqi people was blown up 2 weeks ago with his home.
       Despite all this, I have received numerous invitations from devoted Muslims to have dinner with them at their homes to help celebrate Christmas. A group of Iraqi friends have already presented me with a “Rolex” watch that sells in the market for about $30. While these Muslim friends don't understand everything about Christmas, they surely understand the meaning of Christmas.
       During his speech after 9/11, President Bush assumed that all people and cultures abhorred the slaughter of innocent people. The President assumed that all civilized humans share basic common values. I believe he was correct. I believe the spirit of Christmas transcends all religions.
       Our soldiers face death or severe injury here daily. In spite of that, many of the civil affairs soldiers have already volunteered to extend their service in Iraq. Though the circumstances are difficult, most all of us see the good we are doing. We want the Iraqi people to have the same opportunities as we enjoy. We don't have a job here, it is a mission. The Christmas season, scripture readings, Christmas songs, letters from home, decorations in the dining hall, the exchange of small gifts and the phone calls to home all support us in our belief. What we are doing is the spirit of Christmas. The season just reminds us.
       The meaning of Christmas has surpassed that of early Christians. Christmas stands for much more than a celebration of the birth of Christ. Christmas is a time where people - regardless of race, ethnicity or religion - wish good will and happiness to others. Although we are 6,000 miles away from home, the spirit of Christmas is here.

Randy Fritz, an El Paso County resident, wrote a column for Volume 1, Number 1 of the Westside Pioneer on Jan. 5 of this year. He was then a lieutenant colonel in civil affairs in an area west and north of Baghdad. He has since been promoted and given a higher-level assignment. He writes of his current work: "The things I am doing this time are not as easily seen. Last time, I could see a school being built. Now, I am working on law changes and organizations that may change agriculture in this country for the next 30 years or more. I am changing the organization on water treatment plants and city/village services. I am initiating organizations that will allow Iraqis to support themselves. When I pass off my mission this time, I think I have done what could be done. If I return, It will be in a different role. Maybe I will be an international investor!"