- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

From combined dispatches
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan Santa Claus yesterday brought the U.S. troops in Afghanistan turkey with stuffing, pumpkin pie and the best wishes of New York City schoolchildren.
Troops guarding Bagram Air Base north of Kabul had eaten nothing but plastic-wrapped Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) since landing in Afghanistan in mid-November.
But for Christmas, the Army flew in turkeys with all the trimmings from Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The troops said the most important part of the Christmas lunch was the cards they found on their tables, sent by New York City schoolchildren and delivered by New York police and firefighters who visited Kabul last week.
Most of the cards were decorated with a mixture of Christmas trees and American flags.
"Merry Christmas. Thank you for fighting for us," wrote Jose Fortuna, an eighth-grader at St. Michael's school in New York.
"I wish you a merry Christmas with all my heart. I will pray so you come home soon," wrote Steven Pena, a seventh-grader.
Soldiers had made a big "Merry Christmas Matt" sign for Staff Sgt. Matthew Hoss, an explosives specialist who stepped on a land mine and lost a leg last week.
A "tree" was built from plywood, draped with green camouflage netting and decked out with colorful coffee and tea wrappers.
Steven, a soldier from New Jersey, said the cards from the schoolchildren reminded him of his own children, ages 7 and 1, "especially on this day, Christmas Day. That was real nice and touching."
The U.S. military asks reporters not to use the surnames of soldiers at Bagram.
"What do I want to say to the folks back home? I just want to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and let them all know that we're here for a good reason," said Carey, a sergeant with the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, N.Y., waiting in line for her Christmas meal.
"They support us and we're just here to support them."
The day was a working holiday for Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, who visited two aircraft carriers.
Gen. Franks told sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt that their mission was about protecting the future. "Your country loves you, I love you," he said. "This is about you and this is about your grandbabies and my grandbabies."

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