In Afghanistan, Christmas on top of the world

In Afghanistan Friday, some 91,000 U.S. troops were celebrating Christmas as best they could in the closing days of a year that has seen the deaths of 412 of their comrades. CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward spent the day with a small unit at a mountainous outpost near the border with Pakistan.

At 7,000 feet, Outpost Mustang, is one of the most breathtaking and remote in Afghanistan. It has been the scene of some tough fighting over the last six months, but the 19 soldiers based there took a little time out to enjoy Christmas on top of the world.

On Christmas morning, the men of Wolfhound Battalion manned their posts as usual, far from home and nine months into a grueling deployment.

The season spirit has been slow to set in here. But there were a few noticeable changes -- an inflatable Frosty the Snowman manning a guard shack.

"He may look nice but he's not," joked one soldier.

Santa Claus took on a slightly different form for the men at Mustang, -- a helicopter flew in from a nearby base, bearing gifts and mail from home.

Pvt. Logan Stamp of New York got cheese and sausage.

Everyone knows the key ingredient to a great Christmas is a delicious meal. And for the soldiers at Mustang, a small kitchen is where the magic happens. Cpl. Billy Jennings worked as a pastry chef before enlisting -- so the men are in very good hands.

"My role up here is basically just to make these guys happy," Jennings said.

The food seemed to hit the spot and for a few moments the men were able to relax. Even their afghan guards were getting into the spirit, donning Santa caps.

But the meal was cut short. As a neighboring checkpoint came under attack, the soldiers rushed off to fire mortars at suspected enemy locations.

The war doesn't stop for holidays up there, but it does serve as a reminder of what is important in life.

"Just waitin' to call my wife," Stamp said. "Can't wait to hear her voice."

"Just to know that everybody back home is safe, safe and happy," said Pvt. Robert Hicks of Oregon. "As long as I get to the see them again, that's all I care about."

For the soldiers, it's already back to business. But the good news is that they will be heading home to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii in March.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News