For Staff Sgt. Byron Krepcho, it doesn't feel like Christmas.
Instead of celebrating Christmas Eve with his family back in Dallas, Texas, Krepcho's unit on Thursday fired mortars at enemy positions from Command Post Michigan in the Pech River Valley in the tense Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan.
"Ah, Christmas," Krepcho said with a laugh. "I don't really think about it.
"I don't think about it as a holiday because I just treat it as another day I've been here. I just go on as any day that I spent here ... thinking about going home," said the member of the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 12th infantry unit.
Eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks led to the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban regime, U.S.-led coalition forces are fighting in the wild east of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, where Taliban and al-Qaida-linked fighters and supporters of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are proving a stubborn foe.
Ambushes, rocket attacks and roadside bombings are the stock-in-trade for the elusive militants who hide in these forbidding mountains and valleys to harass U.S. forces attempting to extend the influence of the shaky Afghan government.
In that kind of environment, Christmas spirit is hard to find.
"This is my third Christmas away from family, the first two were in Iraq and then one here," Sgt. David Nix, from Charlotte, North Carlina, said, adding that he misses waking up on Christmas morning with his wife and kids.
"It's the only thing that goes through my mind ... being around my family," he said.