Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota veteran recalls Christmas in Iraq

Sterling Molby of rural Brainerd spent his first Christmas away from home as an infantryman on his first tour in Iraq. That first stint happened before the famed "troop surge" helped restore relative calm to the divided nation. He served as a pri...

2220938+chrismas (1).JPG
Sterling Molby's Christmas meal during his 2006 deployment.

Sterling Molby of rural Brainerd spent his first Christmas away from home as an infantryman on his first tour in Iraq.

That first stint happened before the famed "troop surge" helped restore relative calm to the divided nation. He served as a private, stationed near Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk.

On the days other than Christmas, Molby's job was as a heavy weapons gunner, manning either M240B or M2HB belt-fed machine guns during vehicle patrols of the surrounding area. Molby called them "presence patrols," making sure the Army maintained a presence.

The Christmas Day meal, he remembered, wasn't that special. However, it likely was still a few notches above what Molby was used to: he had a fondness for biting off chunks of uncooked ramen noodles while out patrolling the desert.

"It was pretty much what we ate every Wednesday," he said of the Christmas meal. "I was more excited about the day off than anything."

ADVERTISEMENT

He felt thankful because that day he didn't have to go out on patrol, and he could sleep in. The night before, Christmas Eve, he and his buddies had bought a 12-ounce can of "Three Kings" brand whiskey from an Iraqi kid to enjoy together.

The patrols would get hit sometimes, and Molby remembers explosions so close and so big they would hurt his insides.

He didn't think of the day off as a relief from danger, he said-merely a break from routine. If he knew he was heading into a fight, he would feel fear, but otherwise the patrols were just part of the daily grind.

"Every day you drive to work, you're not going to worry about 'Oh, am I going to get into a car accident today?'" he said. "No, you're just going to drive to work."

During his next deployment near the city of Tuz, Molby served as a three-man team leader with a new rank of sergeant. He prided himself on being a "soldiers' NCO" (non-commissioned officer), who cared about the plight of his men. When the holidays came, he recognized the same sadness among his subordinates that he had felt his deployment. To help cheer them up, he picked up some letters that schoolchildren had mailed in, and distributed them among the platoon.

"The younger guys, it was like their first time away from home," he said. "I remember I didn't really do that a lot, but I did it on Christmas."

During both deployments, Molby's mother would do everything she could to make him feel at home, more than the families of other soldiers in his unit.

"I don't recall anyone else getting wrapped presents," he said, wryly. "It was a little embarrassing, but I didn't care."

ADVERTISEMENT

In a way, the efforts his mom went to in order to make him feel at home actually made him feel worse at the same time they comforted him, because things like the presents reminded him too well of what he was missing.

"I remember laying in bed-it was like 2 o'clock in the morning-I'm like, 'Right now my family is all together, opening presents,'" he said.

Molby knew of guys who essentially wouldn't call home at all while they were deployed, for that exact reason.

"They would just disconnect, and they would get themselves into deployment mode and not think about home, because it would just be hard," he said. "I personally couldn't do that to my family."

What To Read Next
Josh Sipes was watching an in-flight movie when he became aware the flight crew were asking for help assisting a woman who was experiencing a medical problem.
Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide free or discounted care, also known as charity care; yet eligibility and application requirements vary across hospitals. Could you qualify? We found out.
Crisis pregnancy centers received almost $3 million in taxpayer funds in 2022. Soon, sharing only medically accurate information could be a prerequisite for funding.
The Grand Forks Blue Zones Project, which hopes to make Grand Forks not just a healthier city but a closer community, is hosting an event on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Empire Arts Center from 3-5 p.m.