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Carolers Spread Cheer at Bagram

By Army Sgt. Maj. Cecil Edwards and Army Maj. Doug McInvale
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 22, 2009 – Army soldiers and civilians serving in Afghanistan spread good cheer this holiday season to U.S., coalition and Afghan audiences, in what they have dubbed “Operation Caroling.”

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Left to right, Army Maj. Doug McInvale, Army civilian employee Henry McEnery, Army Maj. Jeff Boldt and Army Sgt. Maj. Cecil Edwards conduct “Operation Caroling” to provide morale support to military and civilian audiences at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 6, 2009. U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Rock Stevens

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Henry McEnery, an Army civilian employee who hails from New Orleans and bears a striking resemblance to Kris Kringle; Maj. Jeff Boldt from Pittsburgh; Maj. Doug McInvale, from Birmingham, Ala.; and Sgt. Maj. Cecil Edwards, a resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., joined together to sing as a quartet for this spirited mission.

One evening while the four men were attending the Counterinsurgency Leaders Course near Kabul, they discovered something they all had in common: making music.

“I suggested we blend our voices together and sing some familiar tunes,” McEnery said.

They discovered that the best combination of their talents was delivered when McEnery and Boldt sang the melody, McInvale contributed lower-octave harmonies, and Edwards completed the sound with his tenor tone.

Before retiring to their bunks, the musical combo decided to take the act on the road and spread holiday cheer to U.S., coalition and Afghan friends and colleagues here.

For the military members of this foursome, getting together was easy – all three soldiers are stationed at Bagram. McInvale serves as an assessment and special projects officer with Combined Joint Task Force 82. Boldt also serves with the task force as a civil affairs officer in the stability operations section. Edwards belongs to the 82nd Airborne Division and is assigned to Task Force Cyclone as a research manager on a human terrain team.

But linking up with McEnery, a human terrain team research manager attached to the Marines in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, posed a challenge. But he obtained permission from his unit to join the group here, and like their music, everything else fell into place.

A few days later, in early December, the musical experience that began on a remote Afghan base camp was now being shared all across the airfield. Throughout the week, the quartet known as the “COIN Carolers” – in honor of having met during counterinsurgency training -- sang for a variety of venues and audiences: chapel services, hospitals, parties, post office patrons, mess hall diners, and many others.

“Our visit to Craig Hospital was a particularly uplifting event,” Boldt said, due in part to the efforts of Michelle Ufner, a human terrain team social scientist with Combined Joint Task Force 82, who assisted in Operation Caroling.

Ufner had been commissioned by U.S. school children to deliver 80 dozen cookies to support the troops.

“As the carolers sang and encouraged those recovering from war wounds and illnesses, I distributed the students’ baked treats and communicated their well-wishes to the soldiers,” Ufner said.

Meanwhile, Afghan children, some of whom were patients in the hospital, heard the reverberating melodies and asked if the carolers could sing in their wing, too. The group shared songs, laughs, cookies and goodwill with the patients and their families.

“It was a moment with our Afghan friends that underscores a core COIN principle — the people truly are the prize,” McInvale said.

The COIN carolers were warmly received wherever they performed. One lady at a dining facility, after hearing the group, declared, "I started out feeling blue this morning, but you just made my day!”

Yet, as enthusiastic as audiences were about their musical line-up, their version of “Winter Wonderland” was an especially rousing crowd-pleaser. In its finale, the men joined arm-in-arm and kicked up their heels like a chorus line, inciting cheers and laughter.

The COIN Carolers said they are grateful for having had the opportunity to share the spirit of Christmas, particularly with soldiers and civilians separated from their loved ones during this holiday season. One U.S. soldier who helped to coordinate the group’s appearances, Army Chief Warrant Officer Steven Mehl, summed up their experience succinctly.

“Seeing the audiences’ faces light up made it all worthwhile,” Mehl said.

(Army Sgt. Maj. Cecil Edwards and Army Maj. Doug McInvale serve at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMichelle Ufner, a human terrain team social scientist with Combined Joint Task Force 82, visits with an injured soldier while carolers share songs of cheer at Craig Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 6, 2009. U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Rock Stevens  
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