CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For American soldiers serving in far away places, Christmas is a melancholy, difficult time, a challenging emotional hurdle.
Col. Bruce Reed knows the feeling. Been there. Done that. Twice. It was his job to help downhearted soldiers get through it.
State chaplain and full-time support chaplain for the Joint Forces Headquarters of the West Virginia National Guard, he spent two Christmases deployed with Operation Iraqi Freedom. Even in the desert, he found ways to bring the magic of Christmas to the troops.
His resume brims with commendations, including the Bronze Star. The honors reflect a warm, caring personality well suited to the joys and sorrows he deals with in God's work.
He's 59, a native of Parkersburg.
"I was born in Ohio. We moved to Parkersburg when I was five. My dad works for the post office as a postal inspector.
"My dad asked me one time what I wanted for Christmas. We had always played Army with the boys on the block. One kid had a little machine gun. I thought I would be big stuff if I only had one of those. I told my dad, 'If you just get me one of those machine guns, I don't care about anything else.' He said I was a cheap fix because they cost 99 cents. It didn't take much to please me.
"I grew up a United Methodist. My parents made sure every Sunday we were in church and at youth group on Sunday evenings. My wife and I met at a youth group at church.
"I was in Scouts. I didn't make Eagle, but I was a Life Scout and made Explorers. Wherever I preached, I tried to make sure the church had a Scout troop. I think that's important. It taught me to wear a uniform, how to lead and be outside and to respect a chain of command.
"I was a cheerleader at Parkersburg High School. I was in the orchestra, percussion, and the choirs. I started teaching piano when I got out of high school. My undergraduate degree is in organ.
"I went to Parkersburg Community College, then to West Virginia Wesleyan to study church music. By the time I was out of high school, I knew I wanted to be a preacher.
"I felt a call to the ministry when I was at a church youth retreat. We had a pastor give the sermon at a campfire. I felt like I really wanted to do that, to tell the people about the Lord and the message of Christmas and Advent and having Christ in your life.
"At that campfire, I sat around until everybody else left, and the Lord and I had some conversation. I told Him what I wanted to do, and He warned me in an almost audible voice that it would be hard. I didn't realize how hard.
"The hard part is being with people when they are suffering. I've probably done 13 or 14 next-of-kin notifications, the first one on the family's doorstep. That is hard.
"It's also hard leaving your family during difficult times. When my granddaughter was born, I was called to New Orleans after Katrina. I had just landed with the National Guard and got word I was a grandfather. I was joyous. I tried to find cigars to hand out. Where do you find cigars after a flood?
"The next morning, I got a call from my wife saying that there was something physically wrong with the baby. I could deal with that. We would work through it. Then my son said, 'Dad, I wish you were here.' He needed me. The people in New Orleans needed me. My granddaughter is OK, but there were trying moments.
"I started serving churches in college. I had seven churches in Barbour County. My first time as pastor at those seven churches, I thought I would just pick one church and get to their Christmas service. That was the wrong choice.
"I didn't know how previous pastors did it. Somebody at the church finally told me. You walk in the door and go right up and read the Christmas story. When you are done, someone will say, 'Thank you for being here,' and you go to the next church. Seven times in the same night.
"He said I missed something else, that there is usually an envelope in the tree for the pastor. He was nice enough to bring some of those envelopes with him.