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Devon Smart is from Bremond, Texas, a small town, south of Dallas, north of Austin and 1,422 miles away from Patuxent River Naval Air Station, where he’s an enlisted sailor. Even if he had the energy for the 25-hour drive, Smart said, he’s out of personal leave and has to be at Pax River during the holidays.
“It’s never easy” being away from home, he said. Smart joined the Navy last year and Pax River is his first duty station. This year marks his second Christmas away. The first was in boot camp. That was tough.
But this year might be a little easier. The Liberty Center at Pax River will host a Christmas Eve party and Christmas Day dinner for sailors like Smart. They are usually between 18 and 25, entry- to mid-level enlisted sailors who, for many reasons, can’t make it home this holiday season.
“It’s the closest thing I have to family while I’m here,” Smart said.
Mindy Mackey, the Liberty Center coordinator, said “we’re here for them so that they know they have a place to hang out, a family away from home.”
She has a team of four who decorated for the holidays and is preparing lasagna, garlic bread, salads and desserts. They’ve bought DVDs, Nerf guns, board games, cameras and more — prizes to give to sailors during the event.
“I really appreciate the military,” Mackey said. “What they do is not always easy.”
Smart, 20, is a corpsman. He spends his days drawing blood, taking vital signs, interviewing patients and briefing doctors. He joined the Navy last fall after he and two friends made a pact. One would join the Army, another the Air Force. Smart said, laughing, that he was the only one who made good on his plans.
The holidays are always special in his family, he said. Turkey. Dressing. Cranberry sauce. And, the pies. “Oh, my God, the pies.” If he were home, he’d be out in the yard in Bremond that, compared to Pax River, would still be warm this time of year. He and his four brothers and sisters would be picking pecans for one of those pies that makes him call on the divine.
He hopes to get back to Texas next year. In the meantime, he’s excited about what Mackey has organized.
“They have to make this their Christmas, too,” Smart said. Mackey’s team will be with the sailors on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“I think it’s really nice of them,” Smart said.