History & Culture / Opinion / Politics

“What a Break this Was” – The Untold Story of Why Every President Thanks the Troops on Christmas Eve

AMAC Exclusive by Andrew Abbott

presidentThis Christmas Eve, President Joe Biden will presumably honor one of America’s simplest and most revered traditions. Each year, the president calls a service member from each military branch standing on duty, far from home, wishes them a Merry Christmas, and thanks them for their service. In recent years, the tradition has evolved into presidents video conferencing with entire groups of servicemembers, or even traveling to military bases or warzones. Amid all the politics and partisan bickering, the Commander-in-Chief taking the time to individually call rank and file service members and thank them for sacrificing precious moments with their families to stand watch for America’s safety has become one of the great Christmas traditions in our country.

That tradition began in late November 1984. President Ronald Reagan had just won Forty-Nine out of Fifty states in one of the most sweeping presidential victories in American history. Nevertheless, the campaign had been a brutal and bruising fight that made the holiday season a welcome respite for Reagan and his administration. To that end, White House Chief Speechwriter Anthony Dolan and White House Military Office Director Edward Hickey were both relishing the thought of repose and relaxation in the coming weeks.

Somewhere in discussing their holiday plans, they caught themselves ruminating on those serving overseas during the holidays. The men, both of whom had served in the military, knew the unnoticed burdens shouldered and unsung heroism exhibited daily by our service members. It was then that Dolan mused, “What if the President gives a member of each service a call?” He would not call a senior officer or release a generic appreciation video. Instead, Dolan wondered, what if he specifically spoke to a Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman, and Coastguardsman currently standing a post overseas and away from their families? Hickey pounced on the idea.

While Dolan and Hickey were discussing it, they both realized that the White House bureaucracy often slowed things down. Every federal employee, from presidents to postal workers to peacekeepers, knows full well the glacial speed at which the federal administrative process often moves. Not even the White House is immune from the morass of red tape that bedevils bureaucracy.

Yet Hickey, a career public servant, wasn’t just concerned about tedious paperwork slowing this idea down. In the post-Vietnam era, any statement or action that celebrated the American military was suspect at best, and political suicide at worst. The “consultant class” of Washington D.C. cautioned legislators that being seen as too “pro-military” was terrible optics. There were even a few aides and advisors who thought it was bad for the president’s image. Reagan felt differently.

To remedy this, they didn’t exactly go around the staffing process (Dolan helped Hickey draft a Military Office proposal memo), but instead of simply “sending it up the chain,” Hickey, who had a long-standing relationship with Reagan going back many years, went directly to the president. Reagan, as expected, was gleefully enthusiastic. Dolan said of the conversation, “Reagan was just beaming about the idea and Ed and I laughed later about how unsurprising that was. I mean Reagan and the military on Christmas Eve was perfect.”

Throughout his life, Reagan openly and aggressively defended and celebrated the men and women who risked their lives to defend this nation. On the campaign trail in August of 1980, he addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Chicago. In the days leading up to the speech, his consultants constantly attempted to stop the presidential candidate from calling the Vietnam War a “noble cause.” Every time they removed it, Reagan added it back in.

When the day came, then-candidate Reagan stood by his words and said our veterans “deserve our gratitude, our respect, and our continuing concern.” The message touched millions of Americans whose sacrifice during the war was treated as a mark of shame by other politicians. Dolan said this act showed that “something about Reagan made military families react to him.”

His affirmation of our military didn’t end on the campaign trail, though. He was the first president in the modern era to return the salute of military personnel, another tradition carried on by subsequent presidents when boarding the presidential plane or helicopter. He was also the first President to speak at the D-Day memorial in Normandy on June 6th. And on Christmas Eve 1984, following Hickey and Dolan’s suggestion, he called five service members on duty abroad, and then he called their parents. To Dolan, this was a seminal moment for American morale: “What a break this was from the post-Vietnam world,” he said.

Every president since has honored this tradition (although most now do video calls with overseas units selected by the White House Military Office). In 2021, the true gravity of this act is doubly essential. Following the surrender in Afghanistan, reports of wokeness infecting every level of the military, and now military personnel being discharged over unconstitutional vaccine mandates, the morale of the United States Armed Forces is of grave concern. The President individually thanking our troops on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is about more than the conversation. It was, and is, an affirmation from the highest levels of American leadership that, no matter how bureaucrats or politicians may fail them, the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coastguardsmen, and now Guardians who defend our nation are heroes. Now, just as was the case in 1984, that message is sorely needed.

Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.


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Karen
4 months ago

Yes, Ronnie Reagan was the best. WE MISS YOU PRESIDENT REAGAN.

Bill on the Hill
4 months ago

I’m ( 3 ) days late in responding to this, however America’s Commander in Thief never really showed up in either case, as was the case when Biden & company flew into DC for the so-called inauguration in a private jet per the Trump administration, as the motorcade rolled up Constitution Ave, the vast majority of military personnel flanking the motorcade, turned their backs to it…
From that crystal clear moment moving ahead to Xmas of ’21, I do not believe our military men & women of the armed forces of The United States of America have forgotten how their president became a 46th potus… Then candidate Reagan spoke the correct words to our veteran military men & women that still apply to this very day, they “deserve our gratitude, our respect, and our continuing concern.”
Merry Christmas to all & a Happy New Year ahead…
Bill… :~)

Max
4 months ago

Better late than never, hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas. Take care.

Craig Bergman, CMSgt, USAF retired
5 months ago

As a veteran of 37 years, Ronald Reagan was the best President in my lifetime up to that point, and one of the two best in the modern era. His calling service members on Christman gave all of us a warm feeling and knew he had our backs. With biden, this should change. Nobody in his administration should call any military member because he threw us all under the bus in Kabul this past summer. He doesn’t deserve the title Commander-in-Chief because he is not a leader of any kind. He continues to tear our Republic apart, and his policies have already damaged our National security. He hasn’t earned the right to speak to any of us, as over his first year in office, he has proven to be anything but a patriot.

David Guillemette
5 months ago

As a 24 year retired USAF MSgt I could not agree more or said it Better. Merry Christmas and thanks for putting my feelings into words.

Max
4 months ago

Couldn’t have stated it better. Retired Navy CDR, 30 years. President Reagan was definitely the best during my career.

Bernie
4 months ago

Right on Chief!

REB1957
5 months ago

I hope he didn’t pick any white males. That would go against the narrative of the DSC (Democrat Socialist Communist) Party’s woke program.

Edward
5 months ago

One of these calls, the one in which, in a calm tone of voice, the member said: Let’s go Brandon will most likely become the most remembered moment of this “tradition.” Particularly in light of the reality that our but semi-sentient “resident” was abjectly unaware that he was being insulted to his face.

I would say that the jokes on him, but tragically, he is the joke on us. ELK (USNA ’68)

swamp is still there
5 months ago

Trump probably won 49 of the 50 states in the 2020 election.

Everything done by our illegitimate government in the last year is treason.

Bwa Ha
5 months ago

Let’s get all of those American civilians and refugees back first before we praise anyone! I mean, after all it was Biden who abandoned them on the tarmac in Afghanistan. He was totally clueless as to “what to do”. As a result there’s still scores of folks who are still unaccounted for. They’re being catered to by the Taliban. Compliments of old slo’ joe. An abject failure at everything, or so it seems.

MAGA2024! TRUMP2024!
FJB! LET’S GO BRANDON!

Chuck
5 months ago

Those who don’t do politics, will be done in by politics. Merry Christmas.

Moonpup
5 months ago

As a US Army and NATO Forces veteran, I’d like to say that I’m in hopes of Joe-tato recognizing the military just as much as I’m in hopes of him recognizing his wife in his next public display. If I were still in the service, I’d welcome a call from him…just as much as one from Hillary or Jane Fonda.

Hal
5 months ago
Reply to  Moonpup

Yeah, I still get a little rise in blood pressure when I think of JF’s Viet; Nam antics. I heard that when Hillary “campaigned” for POTUS, she was actually thought to be “riding” for POTUS (on her broomstick!). Well, at least Delaware will be known in history as the home state of Biden …. barf!

Bwa Ha
5 months ago
Reply to  Moonpup

Me too! I guess I’ll never be called by either of them which is more than fine with me.

FJB! LEY’S GO BRANDON!

MAGA2024! TRUMP2024!

Jesse Tiede
5 months ago

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all our Service Members, military, police, EMT, Firemen, etc! Thank you for your service, be it Active Duty, Reserve, Guard, or a stint in uniform! YOU are the reason this country is free and the greatest nation to have ever existed! This old, retired AF MSgt thanks You!

Hal
5 months ago

Buck Fiden might follow this tradition if the Chinese Government gives him permission (or maybe slips Hunter Fiden some moolah on the sly).

Rik
5 months ago

Anybody with half a brain knows that Jackass Joe DIDN’T WIN THE PRESIDENTCY!!! . . . This clown can’t even fill a room with supporters, and still can’t!
A stolen Presidentcy, a stolen Recall Election in California and now they have the “playbook” for future elections! . . . Sorry, but I have no confidence in an “honest” Election happening anytime soon!

Hal
5 months ago
Reply to  Rik

I agree. It is disconcerting to me that the Republicans are not formulating a detailed Constitutional Amendment that insures one-man/one-vote will be strictly followed and heavily penalized to anyone that illegally participates in rigging the voting process.

Jesse Tiede
5 months ago

Oh, to have a Reagan like president, again! Something must be done about this election theft stuff… I’m just afraid of what that will ultimately be…

Darrel Hestdalen
5 months ago

Will the CCP make a Christmas call all the general forcing jabs on the troops that will weaken our national defense capability

Steven
5 months ago

None of this, or anything for that fact matters anymore. We the American people have rolled over and accepted the fraud that has stolen the highest office in our country.

All I hear is a lot of talk about how in the next election Republicans will retake control. Let me let you in on a little secret…there won’t be a country by the time the next election rolls around if this is allowed to continue. We’re being stripped of our rights daily, and by the time the election rolls around they will be whittled away completely.

Where is the outrage? The American people should be flooding the streets and demanding, NO shouting from the rooftops that our President be returned to his rightful place and that all involved in the biggest coup in history be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Sadly, we’ve become so apathetic that nobody cares anymore…”it doesn’t really affect me”, but it will, give it time. So nothing is going to happen and we will all pay for it in due time.

Welcome to New Socialist States of America, you all better get used to it.

Oh btw, Merry Christmas to each and everyone of you.

Hal
5 months ago
Reply to  Steven

And a Merry Xmas to you. But I’m optimistically thinking that the next Federal election will show a clear rejection of the Democrap candidates based on a realization that it is not must Buck Fiden fouling our Constitutional Democracy, but the virtually entire Democrap Party is Commie leaning. mostly because they want to RULE the People ….. NOT just GOVERN the People according to the principles of our Constitutional Democracy.

J M
5 months ago
Reply to  Hal

Agree with you! However……
The only way the next federal election will be able to SHOW the clear rejection of corrupt candidates is if the corrupted voting processes are eliminated. To anyone’s knowledge, has that been accomplished?

Spade David
5 months ago

They way O’Biden abandoned the troops at the gates in Afghanistan was a disgusting show of ignorance and cowardness. To attempt to address the troops from any service would be an affront on Christmas Eve. They probably have very little respect, if any, on a personal basis for the weak-kneed commander and chief. For 90% + Americans, we love our troops and the protection they provide for our country. For the other estimated 10% of Americans, they are too self-absorbed to understand the precious support that the military provide to everyone in this country.

UNN Retired
5 months ago

I’m a retired US Navy Master Chief, am proud of my country and all she stands for. I would NOT want to hear from Biden. Anything he would have to say would be meaningless to me and I am sure a rehearsed lie.

R.J. from Arizona
5 months ago
Reply to  UNN Retired

As a Vietnam veteran I agree fully. I would not want to speak or see the president.

Frank Beachel
5 months ago

I was honored when I was able to join the American Legion after serving in a Reserve Unit for 6 years. I’m proud to have worn Green and am proud to be a retired member of the Thin Blue Line.
However I have my doubts that this tradition will be carried on with this person holding the office of The President of the United States. He wouldn’t remember his lines

Frank Beachel
5 months ago
Reply to  Frank Beachel

Merry Christmas to the Men and Women of the Military Service of the Greatest Country in the World. Stay Safe and come home. The PEOPLE OF AMERICA LOVE AND SUPPORT YOU.

Mike
5 months ago

Utmost love and respect for our service members. I wish all of them a Merry Christmas and a Happy and safe New Year.
As for our “president” I’m sure he will make his wishes about him and his son.

Philip Hammersley
5 months ago

A salute to all veterans and service personnel! My cousin,, a US Navy captain, is a strong conservative. Merry Christmas to all.
Will senile Joe even know what is going on? How will the families of the 13 brave service personnel killed due to his stupidity make it through the Christmas seasoin?

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