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Gone for the Holidays

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FORT BRAGG — It's never easy to say goodbye, but when soldiers are called to duty during the holidays, it is even harder.

But hundreds of soldiers in the 46th Corps Support Group at Pope Air Force Base will be spending the holidays in Central America helping the victims of Hurricane Mitch.

These selfless warriors are leaving all they love and cherish behind during this special season to help those less fortunate.

For some of these soldiers, being away during the holidays is nothing new. But to others, it's their first time away from their loved ones.

"This is my first time away from my family for the holidays," says Lt. Tanya Bovetsky. "It is difficult, but like I said, I count myself as lucky to be able to do this. I've said my farewells, I'll be back."

As the soldiers board the aircraft that will take them to El Salvador, a commanding officer wishes them well.

"Take care," he says as one soldier passes by. "God bless you," he says to another. "Merry Christmas to you," to a third.

Four hours after leaving Fort Bragg, the soldiers arrive in El Salvador at Comalapa Air Base, beneath the sweltering mid-afternoon sun.

A Christmas tree makes it clear that these soldiers intend to celebrate the holidays any way they can.

"It can be pretty difficult, but you give them a sense of belonging to an organization and it really draws people close together," says Col. Scott West, who is commanding the Fort Bragg soldiers in El Salvador.

As night falls, Christmas lights illuminate the tent city bringing a little sense of home to a foreign land. But soldiers say the value of their humanitarian mission far outweighs the holiday blues.

"It's nothing new, it's what we do," says Lt. Dennis Almada. "It's part of the job, it's what we do, we love to do it." Amanda Lamb will have continuing coverage from Central America. Log on to WRAL OnLine throughout the week to see what Fort Bragg soldiers and Camp Lejeune Marines are doing to help the victims of Hurricane Mitch.