Christians, Muslims can coexist

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I wasn't too sure how the Christmas holiday would be received in a Muslim country; however, I was quite satisfied to find that not only do they tolerate it here, but they are more than willing to help us celebrate it.

On Christmas Eve, our team decided it would be fun to put on a Christmas Eve dinner with our Afghan National Army (ANA) friends.

We sent one of our interpreters out into Jalalabad City to pick up some food. He had about a dozen chickens butchered and fried for us along with some rice and the typical Afghan flat bread, known here as naan.

Most of the ANA brigade staff officers came to join us for the evening meal. Col. Afzal, the brigade commander, gave a speech toward the end of the evening, and I am certain that it is a speech I will never forget.

He talked about how thankful he was that we are here in Afghanistan and that he was sorry that we couldn't be with our families for the holiday. He was happy they could share with us in our celebration of the birth of Jesus, and he spoke about what a great man Jesus was in both the context of Christianity and Islam.

I left the dinner with the satisfaction that it is in fact possible for Christians and Muslims to coexist, which is certainly contrary to the belief of radicals on both side of the spectrum.

Back in June, I recollect reading a letter written by one of the insurgent commanders up north. In the letter, he described how he would not lay down his arms unless we all converted to Islam. This level of extremism is obviously limited to a select few of radicals, who happen to be the guys we find ourselves fighting against for the Afghan people.

Nevertheless, these extremists do not represent the populace of this country.

I think perhaps the best Christmas gift I have ever witnessed was the return home of five ANA soldiers. On Oct. 3, one of our outposts in Nuristan Province was overrun by a fierce insurgent attack.

We lost eight American soldiers in the attack and many other ANA soldiers. Seven ANA soldiers were captured by the Taliban and taken to remote locations within Nuristan.

Of the seven captured that day, five of them managed to survive through the onset of winter.

The ANA S2 that I work with had been tasked with figuring out a way to get these guys released from Taliban captivity. This past Wednesday, we saw all of his hard work come into fruition.

I spent Wednesday evening and Thursday morning talking with the newly release Afghan soldiers. They told me their story of the Keating attack, what the Taliban did to them while they were being held captive, how they made an attempt to escape, and how they were finally released to the ANA so they could be with their families again.

While Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, I saw firsthand the true meaning of the holiday: deliverance from captivity.

I spent the last few days trying to take it relatively easy, soaking in all that has happened not only this past week but over the course of the first half of my deployment.

With the New Year on the horizon, I know I can look back fondly over 2009. The images of Afghanistan will be forever etched in my mind.

The year 2010 brings new potential for the war effort here. Several more cups of tea are in store for the near future, as well as progress for the Afghan National Army.

Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support. Your continued prayers will be appreciated throughout the coming months.

Take care, God Bless and Happy New Year!

First Lt. Andrew Plucker is deployed to Afghanistan. He is not an Army spokesman, and his updates from the field are written from his personal perspective as a soldier.

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