All of those who have served in the military or on behalf of the U.S. government overseas have spent at least one Christmas away from friends and family, in some war zone or other foreign land. It is a rite of passage for every military member to be away on some special day or holiday, at least once. This year, we salute all of those serving overseas on our behalf, standing tall on the wall during this holiday season. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays to you all. Stay safe out there.

That being said, here are some of this author’s memories of four Christmases spent with Uncle Sam, and some of his finest young men and women, in hellish training or in foreign lands.

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training—Coronado, California

There are worse places to spend Christmas than in Coronado—let’s just admit that at the outset. It is a gorgeous, temperate, and in some years, pleasantly warm and sunny place at that time of year. However, spending it there while in BUD/S training is not quite the same when it comes to the level of pleasantness. I know some of you out there envision that we just trained right through the holiday, religious sensitivities be damned, possibly experiencing some horrible holiday surf torture or the like. Actually, though, BUD/S did grant students at least some time off from training during the holidays, at least back in my day.

I was in Second Phase when the Christmas holiday fell back in those days, as I was going through BUD/S. I had already successfully completed pool competency, which is the big hurdle during that phase of training, so I was feeling pretty good about myself. I even dared hope that I would survive the training, and successfully complete it. Talk about a good Christmas present. That is quite a feeling, and it made for a joyous Christmas.