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Face of Defense: Soldier Continues Holiday Tradition in Afghanistan

Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens, Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Lt. Col. Stephen Jeselink, Task Force Warrior deputy commander, is recorded while reading the poem “The Night Before Christmas” at the USO at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2008. Through the United Through Reading military program, the Jeselink family in Louisiana will be able to continue a long-standing holiday tradition of listening to Stephen read the poem on Christmas Eve. U.S. Army photo

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 18, 2008 –

Although far from home, a deployed soldier here will continue a long-standing holiday tradition with his family in Louisiana.

Every Christmas Eve, Army Lt. Col. Stephen Jeselink, Task Force Warrior deputy commander, reads the poem “The Night Before Christmas” to his family – a tradition he started 18 years ago when the family was stationed in Karlsruhe, Germany.

“It’s a simple act, but it means so much to me and my family,” Jeselink said.

Jeselink will be able to continue that tradition, thanks to the United Through Reading military program, which allows servicemembers to record themselves reading books and then send the DVD to their children back home. United Through Reading is, in part, a troop-support group that offers DVD services at deployed and some USO locations.

“Many Americans only see the USO centers in airports throughout the United States, but they’re providing an incredible service to our servicemen and civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, too,” Jeselink said.

Jeselink said he is grateful for the program, particularly since this will be the first Christmas he and his wife, Barbara, will be apart in their 26 years of marriage.

“I felt like we needed to do this even though he is deployed,” Barbara said.

She mailed her husband a copy of the poem by Clement Clarke Moore so he could record himself reading it at the USO here.

Barbara hopes to surprise her family by playing the recording of Jeselink after Christmas Eve dinner when the entire family gathers in the living room in front of the Christmas tree.

“Dad gets the book while Mom gives an envelope to everyone,” son Stephen II said, adding that the envelopes may have money, gift cards or gifts inside.

“Dad usually sits with us in a circle and gives instructions on what to do with the envelopes. As he reads the story, every time he says the word ‘the,’ we pass the envelopes to the person on our right,” he said.

“The best Christmas memory I have is sitting around the tree with my family, listening to my dad read the story, and watching his face light up every time he read the word ‘the,’” his son Jarod said.

“He has such enthusiasm reading the story for us, it makes it all the more fun,” daughter-in-law Stormy added.

The fun starts after Jeselink finishes the story. Everyone, beginning with the youngest, gets to exchange, if desired, an envelope with another family member. After everyone has had a chance to pass the envelope or keep it if they wish, everyone opens their envelope at the same time.

“It’s special to be part of something that was started so many years ago,” daughter-in-law Shelley said.

(Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens serves in the Task Force Warrior public affairs office.)

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