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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians serving in Afghanistan spread good cheer this holiday season to U.S., Coalition and Afghan audiences, in what they have dubbed “Operation Caroling.”
Henry McEnery, a DA civilian who hails from New Orleans, and bears a striking resemblance to Kris Kringle, U.S. Army Majs. Jeff Boldt and Doug McInvale, from Pittsburgh and Birmingham, Ala., and Sgt. Maj. Cecil Edwards, a resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., joined together to sing in a quartet for this spirited mission.
One evening while the four men were attending the Counterinsurgency Leaders Course, at the COIN Training Center near Kabul, Afghanistan, they discovered something they all had in common: making music.
“I suggested we blend our voices together and sing some familiar tunes,” recalls McEnery.
They discovered that the best combination of their talents were delivered when McEnery and Boldt sang the melody, McInvale contributed lower octave harmonies, and Edwards completed the sound with his tenor tone.
Before retiring to their bunks, the musical combo decided to take the act on the road and spread holiday cheer to U.S., Coalition and Afghan friends and colleagues at Bagram Airfield, in eastern Afghanistan.
For the military members of this foursome, getting together was easy – all three Soldiers are stationed at BAF. McInvale serves as an assessment and special projects officer with Combined Joint Task Force-82. Boldt also serves with CJTF-82 as a civil affairs officer in the Stability Operations section. Edwards belongs to the 82nd Airborne Division and is currently assigned to Task Force Cyclone as a research manager on a Human Terrain Team.
Linking up with McEnery, an HTT research manager attached to the U.S. Marines in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, posed a challenge. Thankfully, he obtained permission from his unit to join the group in BAF, and like their music, everything else fell into place.
A few days later, in early December, the musical experience that began on a remote Afghan base camp was now being shared all across Bagram Airfield. Throughout the week, the quartet known as the “COIN Carolers” sang for a variety of venues and audiences: chapel services, hospitals, parties, post office patrons, mess hall diners, and many others.
“Our visit to BAF’s Craig Hospital was a particularly uplifting event,” Boldt said, due in part due in part to the efforts of Dr. Michelle Ufner, an HTT social scientist with CJTF-82, who assisted in Operation Caroling.
Ufner had been commissioned by U.S. school children to deliver 80 dozen cookies to support the troops.
“As the carolers sang and encouraged those recovering from war wounds and illnesses, I distributed the students’ baked treats and communicated their well-wishes to the Soldiers,” said Ufner.
Meanwhile, Afghan children, some of whom were patients in the hospital, heard the reverberating melodies and asked if the carolers could sing in their wing, too. The group shared songs, laughs, cookies and goodwill with the patients and their families.
“It was a moment with our Afghan friends that underscores a core COIN principle—the people truly are the prize,” said McInvale.
The COIN carolers were warmly received wherever they performed.
One lady at a dining facility, after hearing the group, declared, "I started out feeling blue this morning, but you just made my day!”
Yet, as enthusiastic as audiences were about their musical line-up, their version of “Winter Wonderland” was an especially rousing crowd-pleaser. In its finale, the men join arm-in-arm and kicked up their heels like a chorus line, inciting cheers and laughter.
The COIN carolers are grateful for having had the opportunity to share the spirit of Christmas, particularly with Soldiers and civilians separated from their loved ones during this holiday season. One U.S. Soldier who helped to coordinate the group’s appearances, Chief Warrant Officer Steven Mehl, summed up their experience succinctly.
“Seeing the audiences’ faces light up made it all worthwhile,” Mehl said.
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