Helping Soldiers Face Christmas at War

Friday is the ninth Christmas that American troops have spent in Afghanistan. And it goes without saying what a difficult time this can be for them. Helping them through it are counselors who've experienced trauma themselves - at Fort Hood last month.

CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark met one of them at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

The soldiers at Camp Leatherneck are doing their very best to make Christmas feel like a holiday, passing out gifts and wishing "merry Christmas" from a humvee.

Most of them have done this before, but it seems to get tougher every year.

"This is my third deployment, third Christmas away," said Staff Sergeant Walter Cromer. "It doesn't get any easier."

Or any more like home.

"It becomes a very sad and lonely time for many soldiers and it's like Groundhog Day - every day is the same so you don't know its Christmas," said Col. Kathy Platoni, a clinical psychologist in the Medical Service Corps.

Platoni is a field psychologist, but she likes to call herself a warrior therapist. And she doesn't give up easily. In November, a member of her unit, Major Nidal Hassan, went on a rampage at their base in Fort Hood, killing 12 of her comrades and injuring 31 others.

"He targeted our unit because he didn't want us to go on the mission," Platoni said.

But a month after the attack she deployed to Afghanistan anyway. She wears the names of each of her fallen friends around her wrist.

"Sometimes I push it up my sleeve because it is such a painful reminder," she said.

Soldiers like Maria DeArmann say Platoni's loss makes her better at her job.

"Coming from where she's coming I think she can totally relate to the horrors of what some people are seeing," DeArmann said.

With so many dead and injured in Fort Hood and the relentless combat in Afghanistan, Col. Platoni says this Christmas will be harder than most

"It's been an incredible experience to overcome all the challenges and obstacles and hardships that we had to in order to get here," she said. "This is our finest hour. We did it, we went forward, we're here and we're going to so a world-class job of it for our fallen."

And for these soldiers, who have just arrived as part of the troop surge, that commitment can only be described as a gift.
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