Eagle County Sheriff: Reach out and support those who can’t be home for the holidays (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: Reach out and support those who can’t be home for the holidays (column)

James van Beek

With Christmas just days away and holiday cheer everywhere, I think about the thousands of people in the Vail Valley and the many different circumstances that have brought them to Eagle County and the shared values that enable us to enjoy our time together.

The holiday season encourages us to focus on family and friends, and we create many opportunities to celebrate these special days. The excitement of children in anticipation of Santa Claus, the moms planning incredible meals, the dads figuring out how an easy-to-assemble item can take three days, neighbors who grumble about holiday decorating, yet rush home to turn on the lights, and co-workers who delight is shopping for Secret Santa gifts. It is a wonderful time of year — although not all are able to celebrate.

Distance, circumstance or tragedy can impede an otherwise joyous time. Often, jobs and other obligations keep loved ones away, and limited resources make visits difficult. Living in a seasonal resort location makes spending time with family challenging, as it is our busiest time of year. We have neighbors whose loved ones will never again be gathered around the Christmas tree due to a fatal illness or other tragic loss. The holidays, particularly the first one alone, can be especially difficult. The festive music and lights now remind them of Christmases past and what never will be again.

It’s a time of sharing hope and letting others know that they are in our hearts. Some who may not make it home for the holidays are the dedicated members of our military. For many, this is their first Christmas away from home. Some are stationed at bases abroad, some in hostile territory, some at undisclosed locations, but all will be thinking of home at Christmas.

My son just completed Basic Training, and we are fortunate to have him home with us for the holidays. Serving his country is the life he has chosen, and we are so proud of the sacrifice he is making. We are also mindful of the ones who cannot make it back to their families, the mothers and fathers, wives and children, family and friends who will celebrate their loved one’s choices, yet worry about their safety. The sadness of parents who enter a bedroom of school memorabilia, sports equipment, photos and other precious belongings that patiently await their owner’s return.

I remember my first Christmas in the military. I was 19, filled with dreams of seeing the world and battling bad guys. I found myself in Germany at Christmas. Of course, there was always the comfort of being with your team, but we were all kids in a strange land, missing home. All of those sibling quarrels and holiday chores became the things of fond memories. Yet there I was, living the dream, alone in Germany.

A nearby family adopted me for the holidays. I thought it would be awkward, but it wasn’t. They brought me into their home, and we celebrated. I was introduced to new Christmas customs and brought along some of my own. It’s a memory I cherish to this day; they became lifelong friends. I still have the gift they gave me back in 1984. While I still missed home, I was not lonely. Next year, my son may be far away, and I hope that someone will open their heart to him, as that wonderful family did for me.

As Christmas approaches, I know that there are those located on bases far from home who could really use a little extra attention. They, of course, would never ask, as they are trained to be strong, yet they are all someone’s special person. Opening your home to these dedicated young people will create memories that will last a lifetime.

Colorado has numerous military bases. A call to any chaplain will connect you to base resources, with an ability to send surprise packages, “adopt a soldier” or perhaps sponsor a holiday event. You may even want to invite a serviceman to enjoy a weekend in Happy Valley.

We are our military’s ultimate extended family. Little things such as care packages, with popular snacks, DVDs, video games, restaurant and store gift cards, movie tickets, even basics such as undershirts or socks, will let these young soldiers know they are thought of and appreciated. Locally, Pat Hammon, of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, will be creating connections for families with members on active duty. Call 970-328-5371.

Reach out beyond your usual circle and help make someone feel special and cared for this holiday season, whether he or she is military or simply alone this year. These are our neighbors and our nation’s children. Put on your figurative red suit and help to heal someone’s heart and, perhaps, make a few dreams come true. Merry Christmas.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.