Deployment can be a difficult time for our nation’s service members. Separation from friends and family is trying, particularly during the holidays. One United States Navy spouse is sacrificing her own Christmas to spend the holidays at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, spreading holiday cheer for those who are stationed there and helping them cope with being so far from family.
Katrina Gonzalez is a 19-year Navy spouse and mother of three from Little Rock, Arkansas. As a program manager for the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, she arrived in Kuwait in July for a six-month deployment knowing she would be away from her family during the holidays.
Her primary responsibility is to help manage family emergencies at home for those who are deployed and to relay the information to the soldier’s commanding officer to determine if they are eligible for emergency leave. She also holds resiliency and communication workshops that help soldiers cope with deployment and separation from their families. Moreover, Gonzalez has strived to make the base feel like home for our nation’s troops, especially during the holidays.
Feels Like Home
On Dec. 9, Gonzalez—with only a hotplate, a few pans, and no running water—made pancakes, eggs, and bacon for the soldiers on the base. Dec. 9 was also the last day of Hanukkah, so Gonzalez made latkes to commemorate the end of the Jewish holiday. Little things like a taste of home provide a huge boost in morale for our service members. Furthermore, Gonzalez and other volunteers have family dinner with the troops each evening.
“It is so important. If you don’t serve, serve those who do. Our service members sacrifice so much, and being able to be in this environment and really experience it with them has really made an impact on me, and it’s given me some insight on how I can better serve our service members back state-side when I get there,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has also decorated the Red Cross office with Christmas ornaments, seven different Christmas trees, holiday music, as well as a menorah. There are a variety of other non-profit agencies on the base, and one of the activities they organized for the troops was a tree lighting ceremony. The volunteers and the troops drank hot chocolate and sang Christmas carols as they lit the tree, creating a joyous, holiday atmosphere on the base.
“We try to just make it like home, and so our volunteers and our service members they come and provide the ideas and we try to live out what it would be like for them at home,” Gonzalez explained.
Gonzalez is sacrificing her own Christmas to bring some holiday cheer to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Her son is turning 17 this week, her daughter just turned 15, and she also has a 9 year old. The children, who are back home in Arkansas, have dealt with a parent being gone before. Their father, Gonzalez’s husband, is in the Navy, and has been on three deployments, the most recent of which was also during the holidays. Despite the difficulty of being separated from her family, she remains committed to her mission in Kuwait.
“It is difficult, but we’re in it together, and I’m so glad to be here with them during this time,” Gonzalez said of her time with our military members on the base.
Gonzalez goes above and beyond to not just create a holiday environment, but also to counsel soldiers who are going through a family emergency that’s happening thousands of miles away. Just the other day, a soldier walked into her office, tears rolling down his cheeks. His family had lost their house in a fire the night before. He was overcome with grief and wanted to know what steps he could take. Gonzalez consoled him and was immediately determined to do everything she could to assist him and provide the resources for him to get through the tragedy. This is just one example of how her effort and work exemplify what Christmas means to her.
“Personally it’s about Jesus’s birth, and celebrating the sacrifices that have been made before us and pushing forward. It’s a time to be with our family, and a time of forgiveness, and a time of being thankful, and a time of selflessness, and it’s a time to give, and to give back to those that are less fortunate. It’s a time of worship and praise,” Gonzalez said.
Since this is her first deployment with the American Red Cross, she doesn’t know for sure how she’ll feel when she gets home. However, her husband has been on three deployments of his own while in the Navy, and she suspects the reunion will be highly emotional. While she thinks about her family every day, she remains committed to her mission in Kuwait.
“I always just have a smile, and will always just make sure that I’m listening to our service members, and I will try to move mountains for whatever they need at that time. Whatever that sacrifice looks like for me at that time, I’m willing to make it.”