Holidays have different feel for families with members in military

As people celebrate Christmas and New Year’s there are some families who will be without a loved this year because they are serving in the military and unable to come home.

This scenario is one that plays out in homes around the country as well as in northern Michigan.

Christmas this year will be much different for Kendrea Lay of Alpena, as she is serving in the United States Army as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and stationed in Italy.

Lay said she has been in Italy for about six months and this is going to be the first Christmas away from her family and friends. She said being around her fellow soldiers will help ease some of the homesickness, but added it will still be difficult being away from the family Christmas celebrations.

“Not being at home gets harder during the holiday season, but it is also good to know I’m surrounded by people who are going through the same thing,” Lay said. “We are like family and know what each other is going through because we all would rather be home.”

Lay said there will be many things she will miss about the Christmas celebration at home, but there is one thing she will miss more than all of the rest.

“I’m really going to miss my grandma’s cooking real bad,” she said.

Steve Smigelski was stationed in Germany with a nuclear missile battery in 1982. He put in for leave for the holidays, but had a change of heart when new guys joined the unit. He said he and others pulled their requests so the new soldiers had better odds of going home. Smigelski said what happened next is still of one his best Christmas memories to this day.

” On Dec. 23 I was notified by the mail room there was a package for me,” he said. “The box was from my parents and among the goodies and family Christmas cards was a fresh evergreen wreath that had been heavily misted and wrapped in plastic. That wreath smelled so good, and almost everyone in the barracks who couldn’t get home stopped by just to smell it.

Smigelski now has a son in the military and said he is expected to be home for Christmas this year.

Tim and Kathy Bellows have a son in the Army and are preparing to spend Christmas and New Year’s without him. Kathy said she is proud of the sacrifice her son is making to serve our country, but added when he is not able to join in family celebrations on Christmas and other holidays.

“We have always loved Christmas and while the kids were growing up always had big parties,” she said. “With him not being home it kind of takes the air out of it. We still think of him and having the grandkids here helps too, but knowing here wants to be here, and we want him to be here, and he can’t makes it kind of hard.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanew