U.S. forces on overseas active service might be out of sight, but they are never out of mind, especially at Christmas.
To that end hundreds of American troops based in Syria have received Christmas gifts thanks to Operation Holiday Express, launched by U.S.-led coalition forces from across the border in neighboring Iraq.
As Stars and Stripes reports, several high-ranking officers and NCOs in the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State brought gifts and goodies, as well as surprise recorded video messages from home for men and women deployed to Deir el-Zour and Hassakeh provinces, where last month U.S. troops resumed large-scale operations with Kurdish-led partner forces against ISIS, after a brief pause earlier this year.
In addition to the presents, Christmas tunes were provided by a military band from the 1st Infantry Division, flown in from Fort Riley, Kansas. The soldiers received stockings stuffed with candies, toiletries and other gifts.
All the Operation Holiday Express gifts were donated by military support groups, churches and charity organizations in the U.S.
At several sites, a loose formation of soldiers, some bearded and anonymous, others clean-shaven and bearing unit combat patches, awaited the arrival of their visitors, who included Lt. Gen. Pat White, commander of the U.S.-led coalition, and his staff — several of them wearing Santa hats.
“Just a little bit of merriment today, then you’ve got to get back to work,” White told one of the groups after thanking them for all that they do,” Stars and Strips reports. “All right, get back to work. No, just kidding. God bless you guys.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said last month that about 500 or 600 U.S. troops will remain in Syria to counter IS fighters who have been carrying out hit-and-run attacks in recent weeks against Kurdish-led fighters.
Lt. Gen. Pat White, commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, told the AP that the presence of American soldiers on the ground in Syria shows the commitment of U.S. forces, and they will pursue the remnants of Islamic State anywhere in Syria.
AP contributed to this report