CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- In a darkened room, dozens of service members and civilians stood silently awaiting the lighting of their candles. Candlelight vigils are generally held in remembrance of someone’s death, but tonight it is to remember the birth, more than two thousand years ago, of one the most influential people on earth.
Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, civilians and Marines stood shoulder-to-shoulder celebrating Christmas and its meaning to them, the birth of Jesus Christ.
Candles were handed to each person as they entered the chapel moments before Regimental Combat Team 2 Chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Bradley E. Telleen, entered and began the service.
“I bought 100 candles for this service thinking that I might have some left over, but I was happy to see that I was wrong,” the 49-year-old Jacksonville, N.C., native said with a smile. “We brought out extra chairs and it was still standing room only and we had long since run out of candles.”
After he made a few announcements, the service started as Army chaplain, Capt. Jerry Waldrop, and his assistant, Cpl. Adam D. Westermann, from 3rd Battalion, 504th Paratrooper Infantry Regiment, led the congregation in singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
“It was an honor to be out here celebrating with the troops,” said Waldrop, a 35-year-old Mobile, Ala., native. “Besides being at home, there’s no other place I would rather be than here to help celebrate with the guys as we fight for freedom over here.”
Visiting Navy chaplain, Lt. Jeff R. Bornemann, said a prayer and read a scripture about the Virgin Mary before the service continued.
“When Mary said yes to God’s call, she gave birth to Christ,” said Bornemann, 44, of O’Fallon, Ill. “When we say yes to Christ, we give him birth in our life and it gives us a light that we can carry in a dark world. It’s our version of Mary’s answer and it’s a way to celebrate his birth.”
Telleen, a 1975 graduate of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo., read more scriptures concerning the birth of Christ and reflected on what the Christmas season really means.
“To all those here it means the coming of the Christ child and not so much as buying gifts and such,” said the 1981 graduate of the University of Southern Colorado. “He is the reason for the season and we must always remember that.”
As the lights dimmed, everyone prepared for the lighting of their candles while Westermann, a 21-year-old Kent Store, Va., native, sung the song “Mary, Didn’t You Know.”
“The song is about what Mary could have been thinking when she found out that she would give birth to Jesus,” the 2002 Fluvanna High School graduate said. “We should reflect on the same things every Christmas to remind ourselves what this holiday really means.”
As the last of the candles were lit, they sung there final songs and the chaplain said a prayer to end the service.
As people left, they put out their candles and wished each other “Merry Christmas” with the words of Telleen and the thoughts of Bornemann lingering with them.
“To celebrate Christmas in Iraq is like being in Whoville after the Grinch has come,” said Bornemann, a 1992 graduate of Lutheran Theological School in Philadelphia. “But if you have the spirit in your heart you can celebrate it anywhere.”
“And in your heart Jesus is your light and he cannot be extinguished if you let him,” Telleen added. “He is your light and he shines in the darkness and it can not be overcome. Go in peace and have a Merry Christmas.”