Santa Claus may wait until February to visit the Walker home near Fort Bragg,N.C.
According to their mother,Caitlynn,Madison and Dakota Walker have asked St. Nick not to come until their dad is home.
Tiffanie Walker,34,said her daughters,9 and 6,and her 20-month-old son don't want to celebrate the holiday without their father,Sgt. 1st Class Lee Walker,who has been stationed in Iraq since February.
The Walkers are among thousands of American military families who are separated this year.
Walker said it's tough to be apart from her husband of 12 years,but she's more concerned about loneliness affecting Lee and others soldiers.
Walker said she's been busy making sure her husband’s unit has a tree and something under it come Christmastime.
Because of the distance,military families often must mail gifts long before Christmas. The deadline varies by area of deployment and how the package is shipped.
Surface mail to Africa should have been sent by Oct. 16,for example,and air mail to Europe and the Middle East can go as late as Dec. 15.
Senders pay to ship packages to U.S. military bases,and the military postal service transports them overseas at no extra charge.
Naval Lt. Cdr. Brian Lomax,chief of plans and policy for the military postal service,said packages no bigger than a shoe box travel the quickest,although bigger items will be delivered.
“If you have a big box,break it down into two or three,” he suggested.
Walker will send Christmas packs to her husband and six of his single buddies the first weekend in November. By then,they should already have the fiber optic Christmas tree and ornaments she sent this month.
Walker thinks about the other guys because their state of mind can affect her husband,she said.
“If they get things they need,it makes their morale higher,which means they got his back better. If they're doing their job,that means he's safer,they're safer,and they'll all come home,” she said.
With the help of family and generous friends,she's mailed about 100 boxes to her husband and his men since he was deployed on Valentine's Day. Over the months,she said,they've requested such everyday items as deodorant,toothbrushes,toilet paper and shoe insoles.
She's also mailed microwave popcorn,sodas,DVDs and chips and salsa.
The Family Support Center at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha,Neb.,will send shoe boxes of donated phone cards,lip balm,playing cards and cookies Nov. 26.
The families of about 200 Air Force personnel stationed all over the world will pack the boxes during Project: Happy Holidays,an annual event organized by Master Sgt. Robin Brown.
Having spent Christmas 1990 in the Persian Gulf,Brown said she understands what it's like for the soldiers who are away.
And she knows what kinds of presents – a favorite sports team sweatshirt,a family photo or an audio or video letter – help ease the homesickness.
For conventional letters,the tradition of sealing a favorite scent in the envelope stands.
“Guy still like perfume,” Lomax said.
During her Christmas season overseas,Brown said one item that helped her was a cassette tape of a live broadcast by a rock radio station in California.
“We could listen to it over and over,” Brown said. “It got to the point where we even knew the commercials.”
This will be the second year in a row that Jenelle Graham's husband,Anthony,an Air Force captain who flies with a reconnaissance wing,will be absent for Christmas.
A first lieutenant stationed at Offutt herself,Graham said last year was tough because her husband missed their daughter's first birthday.
She relied on family and friends to keep her company and sent her husband boxed snacks and letters.
“After a while,he just wanted recent pictures,so I took digital pictures and printed them out. Our daughter was changing so rapidly,” Graham said.
Walker said she makes a point of sticking something – a letter,a photograph or a drawing by the children — in the mailbox for her husband every day.
It was letters that originally brought the couple together.
They courted by mail for a year after he received a letter in 1990 that she had addressed to Any Service Member,a military program that no longer exists.
Walker said her husband proposed just four days after they came face to face for the first time.
“We had met Thursday,and on Monday he asked me to marry him,” she said.