CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait – Taking a break from the standoff with Iraq, U.S. soldiers celebrated Christmas in the Kuwaiti desert with football, turkey and trimmings Wednesday.
Marine Sgt. Jason S. Dangle, 24, overcame the separation from his family by taking the first step toward forming a new one.
Dangle proposed marriage on Christmas Eve to his girlfriend, Christine Reckelhoff, 23, in a phone call to her in their hometown of Cincinnati. She said yes.
"This definitely makes the holidays more bearable," Dangle said as his comrades sitting on a Humvee applauded.
At Camp New York, the headquarters for the 2nd Brigade of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, soldiers staged a flag football tournament Christmas morning on a sandy field chewed by tank tracks.
It was a welcome respite as the threat of war increases over U.S. and British allegations that Iraq is amassing weapons of mass destruction.
The soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, an armored force of several thousand that is the main U.S. force in Kuwait, have been training nonstop since deploying here in mid-August.
Their celebrations took place just days after the brigade completed the largest live fire exercise in the Kuwaiti desert since the end of the Gulf War.
The 2nd Brigade's Christmas Bowl final pitted the Blade Runners of the 123rd Signal Battalion against the Headhunters of the 10th Engineers. The Headhunters won 12-0 in a game as hard-fought as any holiday bowl back home.
"It feels great to be the champions of the Christmas Bowl," said Pfc. Kahl Gosforth, 19, of Springfield, N.J. "Now I'm gong to have a nice meal, get some rest and get ready to get back to work tomorrow."
Wednesday, an estimated 1,000 turkeys made the ultimate sacrifice for a meal that, for a change, didn't come out of a box. The soldiers have been eating military rations for the last week in the field.
The mess halls were decked with colored lights, garlands, wreaths and elaborately decorated cakes. Officers donned chefs hate and served turkey with all the trimmings to the men.
Gifts from home were savored.
Lt. Col. Joe Brendler, 40, of Chazey, N.Y. received a package from his family last week. He tucked it under the Christmas tree put up by the 123rd Signal Battalion he commands and tore off the wrapping Christmas morning to discover a DVD set of the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," about a company of the legendary 101st Airborne in World War II.
A Kuwaiti Internet radio station recorded messages and dedications from the soldiers to their families Wednesday. The station, Deraradio.com, said the gesture was a thanks "from young Kuwaitis to the U.S. Army in Kuwait while defending and protecting the northern borders of Kuwait."
Signal Battalion Pfc. Samantha Brown, 26, of Miami, used a more conventional means of communication, calling her four children, who were at home with her mother.
"They asked, `Are you coming back,"' said Brown. "I tell 'em that I'm coming, but not just now. I tell them that this is my job."
In contrast, Wednesday was a day of routine patrols over southern Iraq for the U.S. forces aboard the USS Constellation, which arrived in the Gulf this month. It's aircraft have been flying regular missions in support of the southern no-fly zone over Iraq.
The 5,000 sailors and airmen aboard the carrier celebrated Christmas a day early, eating roast turkey, baked Virginia ham and cornbread and exchanging greetings with a soldier dressed as Santa who roamed the flight deck. They had received orders to conduct regular operations on Christmas.
Wednesday, 28 aircraft were scheduled to go "over the beach" -- shipboard slang for missions over land -- on routine patrols over the southern no-fly zone.
"They're going to send us wherever they need us to be," said Lt. Andrew Schulman, a 27-year-old Hornet pilot from Boston who was flying Wednesday. "All of us on the ship, from captain to that guy just out of boot camp, every one of us has the feeling that we've been trained to do whatever we're asked to do."
The no-fly zones were set up after the 1991 Gulf War to prevent Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from using his military aircraft against rebelling Iraqis in the north and south.
Iraq considers the zones violations of its sovereignty and its air defenses have fired on U.S. and British warplanes patrolling them. Iraqi fighters sometimes cross into the zones and are pursued by American or British warplanes.