The Holiday Shopping Survival Guide For Veterans

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U.S. Army soldiers watch the Afghanistan countryside from the tail of an aircraft after delivering care packages to soldiers stationed at a remote base in eastern Afghanistan.
Photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak

It's a familiar sensation for all veterans. That tense, roiling pit in the center of your stomach. The pounding of your heart in your temples. The first twitching sensation of sweat beginning to bead all over your body. All wrapped around the big, twisting ball of tension that you know means something big is about to go down, and not only can you not stop it, but you know you'll be swept up in it and have to struggle with all your strength to get through. And all while you’re surrounded by an impenetrable fog of pumpkin spice and hordes of shrieking, greedy children. That's right, it's holiday shopping season. And hell hath no fury like a youngster without just the right Lego.


If you're a recently detached veteran, I can assure you that you're unprepared. Your carefree days of strolling through the PX for 20 minutes and walking out with a shipping container's worth of Camelbaks and moto t-shirts for your friends and family are over. (Frankly, they all hated when you'd get them those gifts, but now you don't even have the option.) And if you thought flying home to see your family across the country was bad, then I invite you to try walking into the Macy’s flagship store any time between Thanksgiving and New Years. It's the most terrifying experience imaginable, and I lived through two Red Sox championships as a Yankee fan living in Boston.

But fear not, because I've got four points that will help get you through your holiday purchases in true veteran style.

1. Maneuverability is key.

In military situations, there is generally strength in numbers. This does not apply to holiday shopping. Trying to keep a big group together while pushing through crowds of fellow shoppers will just end in you all being split up anyway, at best. At worst, you'll end up focusing way too hard on trying keep your little infantry square together that one of your friends or family will end up clubbed unconscious by an Elmo-wielding, helicopter mom. Go solo, get what you need, and get out. And moving fast will help you get in, get home, and avoid those aforementioned terrible kids.

2. Adjust your camouflage.

Sgt. Anthony Ward, dressed in the Santa suit, and 1st Lt. Philip Vrska, in the Christmas package, bring some holiday cheer to a 5K "Jingle" race sponsored on Camp Ramadi, Iraq, Dec. 20, 2008.Photo by Sgt. Emily Suhr

After years of wars in desert/third world urban landscapes, the concept of camouflage beyond your regular uniform has fallen by the wayside. Sure, we all have those wacky photos of ourselves in training with our best 'Nam-style tiger-stripe face paint, but that's probably the extent of your use of camouflage. The holidays, and the shopping that goes with them, is absolutely the time to bring it back. Yes, there's the standard red and green, with dashes of silver tinsel and maybe a few bells. But really think through where you'll be doing your shopping. Going to Best Buy for some electronic goods, for example? Match the omnipresent blue and yellow logo; maybe tape a few iPhone cases to your coat to blend into the displays.

3. Children are terrible people.

I'm going to go over this just one more time: youngsters are monsters. Okay, maybe not all the time, but when it comes to the year-end flurry of gift purchasing, even your own precious little angels become voracious maws demanding to be sated with toys, clothes, and copies of Call of Medal of Duty 12: Bloodsplosion Plus Kevin Spacey For Some Reason (or whatever it's called). They're feisty, fight dirty, and are low to the ground. Think of them as fleshy IEDs that can sprint and urinate. Treat them as such, and avoid them as best you can. You may think that you can avoid dealing with their tiny, grabbing little hands and surprisingly powerful kicks to the groin by shopping during school hours. But remember, most of the adults there have one or more of those critters at home, and they'd rather fight you for the last blue lightsaber than deal with a toddler who will settle for nothing else. So be alert. And wear a cup.

4. Just do it all online. Months ago.

Come on, have you even heard of the Internet? It's great. And why are you still shopping in December? Think it through.

And there you have it, another holiday saved by yours truly. If you've read this far and still have no idea what to do and are grumpy that you didn't use Amazon.com back in September, then I recommend you exchange the same gifts my family does at Christmas: checks and liquor. Can't beat it. Especially with a stack of USMC golf shirts or a gross of shot glasses with "Hooah!" printed on them (seriously, those of you out there know who you are, knock it off with the PX crap).

Happy Holidays!

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