Staff Sgt. Nathan Carlsrud

For Minnesota National Guard Staff Sgt. Nathan Carlsrud, this holiday season will be the first time that he will not be able to spend the holiday season with his family.

"It is hard at times knowing what everyone is going to be doing and knnowing that I will not be there with them," he wrote from Iraq, where he's currently stationed. "But I know they will be thinking of me and that makes it better."

Before he was sent overseas, Carlsrud was stationed at the West St. Paul National Guard Armory. His tour should be over this spring.

According to Carlsrud, holiday celebrations are more limited in scope and scale for overseas soldiers. He's expecting a special meal for Christmas, along with holiday services held by the military chaplains, but not much more. Even during the holidays, the mission still comes first, he wrote. Therefor the holdiays are taking on a more personal significance for Carlsrud while he's stationed overseas.

"It is the little things that seem to help us through this season, such as putting up a little Christmas tree, or whatever we can find as a substitute, or hanging some lights."

Carlsrud says he's going to miss a lot of holiday traditions his family has, such as his parents' Thanksgiving dinner and playing board games afterwards, the Holidazzle Parade and Lori Line Christmas Concert, and especially exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve with his wife, Stacy.

However, even while stationed overseas, Carlsrud plans on keeping some of his traditions alive. Thanksgiving football with his family is one thing he doesn't want to give up, so he's planning on getting a game going with his squad on Thanksgiving Day. Another tradition he'd like to continue is a little more personal.

"My wife and I have exchanged a Christmas ornament every year since we have been married," he wrote. "I hope to be able to do that, but as you can imagine it will be more than a little difficult to find a Christmas ornament in Iraq."

Of course, Carlsrud is also planning on staying in touch with his family in a more direct way.

"We are allowed two 15 minute calls each week ... and are able to e-mail whenever we have access to a computer," he wrote. "I hope to be able to call when all of my family is together over the holidays, but it is just hit and miss."

Meanwhile, Carlsrud said he's built relationships with his fellow soldiers, something he said is hard to explain to someone who isn't there to experience it for themselves.

"It is like a brother relationship with many ups and downs. But when it comes down to it you know that they will all be there for you," he wrote.

"We will probably do something silly like a white elephant gift exchange (there is not much of anything to buy here at our PX), and I hope that at least some of us will be able to go to the special meal as a team," he added.

Being overseas has made Carlsrud appreciate his family and friends much more, as well as changing his perspective on the holidays themselves.

"I do have a new view on Thanksgiving and the realization of what we do have to be thankful for, now more than ever," he wrote. "I know the true meaning of Christmas and also see how fortunate we are to be able to celebrate this without fear."

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