PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro – U.S. soldiers laden with carefully wrapped gifts made an early Christmas visit to a Kosovo orphanage on Tuesday, piling presents in the corner of a room trimmed with balloons and ornaments.
Some of the 46 orphans stretched their hands out for hugs from the troops in military fatigues, and others shied away from the attention.
"It's a great feeling," said Chief Warrant Officer Eric Manchon, 39, who will spend Christmas away from his three children in Mechanicsburg, Pa. "I miss them, but being here with these children ... it's a wonderful feeling at this time of the year."
The gifts, each bearing a name tag, were from some of the 1,800 U.S. soldiers deployed in Kosovo as part of NATO-led peacekeeping force, which has been patrolling the province since mid-1999.
The soldiers are regular guests in the SOS Kinderdorf International, a compound of several houses in the suburb of Kosovo's capital, Pristina — a home to some of the province's abandoned children, said Xhelal Svecla, the head of the center.
On Tuesday, Manchon and about 14 other soldiers came from Camp Bondsteel, the main U.S. military base in the east of province, to deliver the gifts in person and share some of the joy of the holiday season with those in need of a home.
"The help itself, their play with these kids, proves to them that somebody else other than the workers here, care about them," Svecla said.