Deployed Soldier continues family tradition PDF Print E-mail
Written by 1st Lt. Lory Stevens Task Force Warrior Public Affairs   
Thursday, 01 January 2009

081216_A_XXXXX_007.jpgBAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (December 17, 2008) – Despite being away for the holidays, a deployed Soldier in Afghanistan is continuing a long lasting holiday tradition with his family back in Louisiana.

Task Force Warrior Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Stephen Jeselink and his wife Barbara will be spending their first Christmas apart this year after 26 years of marriage and 22 years in the military, but the United Through Reading Program allows them to continue sharing a Christmas Eve tradition that has been carried on in their family for the past 17 years.

Jeselink began reading “Twas the night before Christmas” to Barbara and their two sons, Stephen II and Jarod, during Christmas of 1991 when the family was stationed in Karlsruhe, Germany.

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

Since the Christmas of 1991, the Jeselink family has grown in size.  It now includes two daughters-in-law, Shelley and Stormy, and two beautiful grand-daughters, Keavy, 3, and Chloe, 7 months. 

The Jeselink families now make their homes in Northeast Louisiana around West Monroe, located 90 miles East of Shreveport.

“I felt like we needed to do this even though he is deployed,” said Barbara, who sent her husband a copy of the book by Clement Clarke Moore so he could read and record it at the United Service Organization (USO) at Bagram Air Field.

The USO offers a United Through Reading Military Program which records service members reading children’s books aloud and sends the DVD to the children at home.

“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,” said Jeselink.

Barbara hopes to surprise her family this year by playing the recording of Jeselink after Christmas Eve dinner.  That is the time when the entire family, and anyone else that shows up, gather in the living room in front of the Christmas tree.

“Dad gets the book while Mom gives an envelope to everyone,” said Stephen II, explaining how envelopes may have money, gift cards, or specific 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.

Jarod recalled, “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’.”

“He has such enthusiasm reading the story for us, it makes it all the more fun,” said Stormy.

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

“It’s special to be part of something that was started so many years ago,” said Shelley, remarking that this year’s celebration is a reminder that love will keep a family together, regardless of time and distance.

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