24 Dec. Wall Street Journal - A Holiday in Wartime.

Writing from his position in Iraq, Capt. Noah Hanners says he and his troops will have no choice on Christmas Day but to carry out the normal yet dangerous tasks of an army at war. Still, Capt. Hanners is thinking about marking the holiday in his own quiet way: "Maybe I'll wear a Santa hat over my helmet on a patrol, to make my family smile when they see the pictures and to let them know what I was doing on Christmas Day."

For soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dec. 25 will mostly be just another workday, full of patrols, guard duty, raids and the distribution of aid to the local population.

It won't entirely be routine, however. Most soldiers, like their civilian counterparts working for the American Embassy and private contractors in Iraq, will call home over scratchy satellite-telephone connections. Others will catch glimpses of their loved ones via small webcams.

The Wall Street Journal asked a group of American soldiers and civilians stationed in Iraq to explain how they plan to spend this Sunday, and to reflect on the thoughts they'll carry inside as they do so. The Journal asked a few family members at home to do the same.

At home, the war is very much on the minds of Americans as they prepare to mark Christmas and the first night of Hanukkah on Sunday. That's true in large measure to this fall's debate about America's role in Iraq, as well as President Bush's unusual recent blitz of speeches and statements defending his war plans and explaining his vision for Iraq.

The debate is especially timely because an unusually high number of American forces are on duty now. To ensure security during Iraq's successful elections for a new government last week, American troop levels have ballooned to about 160,000 from about 148,000 a year ago. With the election past, the Pentagon now plans to start lowering that level to about 138,000 in the coming weeks. In Afghanistan, about 19,000 American soldiers and Marines are on duty, though that level also is expected to drop in coming weeks to about 16,500.

The upshot is that, for at least some soldiers, this Christmas on the front lines is a prelude to a trip home. But whether they're short-timers or facing a longer haul, those in the war zones will be thinking less about war debates and more about what is happening with their families back home. And back home, their families will be thinking the same in reverse, wondering how their loved ones are marking a special day so far away.

"During the Christmas service, we will ask our Lord to keep a special watch over Kurt's safety," says Diann Bellmont, 50, of Cold Spring, Minn. She plans to take pictures of her family around the Christmas tree and email them to her son, Marine Cpl. Kurt Bellmont, who is stationed in Ramadi. "Our son now is protecting us, when for 18 years we protected and helped make decisions for our son. Isn't it funny how life turns the tables?" (See full letter.)

Here are their messages, in their own words...
Follow the link above for their holiday reflections...