What holiday? Work goes on for some in military communities

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Pfc. Ninotchka TorresSenal, 26, a nutrition care specialist from Hampton, Va., prepares peppers in the kitchen at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the U.S. military's largest overseas hospital, on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. For TorresSenal and many others at the hospital, Christmas is almost just another day at the office. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
Pfc. Ninotchka TorresSenal, 26, a nutrition care specialist from Hampton, Va., prepares peppers in the kitchen at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the U.S. military's largest overseas hospital, on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. For TorresSenal and many others at the hospital, Christmas is almost just another day at the office. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

What holiday? Work goes on for some in military communities

by: Matt Millham | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: December 24, 2014

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — It’s two days before Christmas and Pfc. Ninotchka TorresSenal is cutting up vegetables and bread in the kitchen of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and putting the pieces into various bins.

About to spend her first Christmas away from home and family and friends, the 26-year-old Army brat from Hampton, Va., said she expects to spend that day chopping and slicing as well.

“It’s just another day,” she said, musing that she hadn’t ever considered what the holidays would be like in the Army, even though her stepfather — a career soldier — had missed at least four Christmases that she can remember.

“Who thinks about that? Nobody thinks that far ahead.”

While many — if not most — American personnel posted in Europe and the Pacific are working reduced schedules during the holidays, almost everyone will get off Christmas Day. There are, of course, exceptions.

Emergency services will continue to run, nurses will keep attending to patients and kitchen staff will labor to prepare huge, traditional meals for military personnel who, like them, are based thousands of miles from home.

Spc. Michael Kerr, a single, 23-year-old military policeman from Holbrook, N.Y., expects to spend at least 12 hours on Christmas Day on patrol around Kaiserslautern.

“It’s a good thing, though,” he said. “It gives the other soldiers who have their families here time to be with their families.”

Having been through a previous Christmas in Germany, he said he expects “a normal day,” perhaps a bit quieter. The roads, particularly, will be next to empty. It can be more enjoyable than a regular day, if a bit boring.

“If I don’t have to respond that means people are having a good day,” Kerr said. “That’s a good day for me.”

Like the police, the Rheinland-Pfalz Army garrison’s five fire stations will be at full staff, just as they are the other 364 days of the year, said fire chief Robert Coonce.

Whether they’ll be called into action is anybody’s guess. Christmas is unpredictable, Coonce said. Some years they’ll get eight calls, others none.

One thing is more predictable, though: “Most of our responses are cooking fires, traditionally,” he said. “But the installations typically are quiet. Everyone’s spending time with their family or they might be out of town.”

Not surprisingly, many chaplains and their assistants will also work on Christmas, which, along with Easter, is one of the two busiest times of the year for the career field, said Sgt. 1st Class Geczel Rivera. Most of the prep work is already done, though, he said, to create the festive atmosphere many parishioners expect. The poinsettias are ordered and the trees are decorated.

Christmas itself is “not a terribly busy day, but it’s not a day off, either,” Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kevin Leideritz said. “But, at least speaking for myself, it doesn’t feel like a work day because of the significance of the worship services. It’s one of the services we look forward to all year.”

While TorresSenal isn’t exactly looking forward to being away from family, she’s trying to make the best of it.

“I’m a single soldier, so I don’t really have anybody,” she said. “So I’d rather be here at work and spend my time here occupied and then later on, because of the time difference … Skype with my family.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com
Twitter: @mattmillham