ATLANTA -- Alone. Away from family on Christmas Day. Heading into combat. Thinking of family, close friends and what lies ahead.
And then, 5-year-old Henry Rooks of Smyrna, walks up and hands you one of 40 hand-lettered Christmas cards.
"My mom helped me make these little cards to give to military people," Henry said.
The mood changed. The troops were gathering at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO above the airport's atrium.
There to bring a festive holiday spirit were 63 USO volunteers and eight top Metro Atlanta chefs serving up a festive holiday banquet. Many of the troops were heading into active war zones on Christmas Day for the first time.
"You got to do what you got to do. It's not good. It's not fun, but it's your job so you got to suck it up," said Chris Hubbard of the US Army.
And traveling on Christmas Day?
"It's not cool," said Army Specialist Seth King.
"It's not fun to travel on Christmas day. It's hard to leave family on a holiday but it makes it easier when you're in a place like the USO," said Army Capt. Alex Kehler.
On hand to give the troops a sendoff, Santa Claus. He is Judge Jackson Bedford of the Fulton County Superior Court. He served aboard an aircraft carrier in Vietnam.
"As I look down here and I see what you did in Vietnam as you walk the line and greet these young soldiers what goes through your mind,"asked 11Alive's Bill Liss.
"There I go. Been there and done that. So I know how they feel in a way. They are leaving their friends and their family and their homes on Christmas Day and they are going away to a strange country to fight for our country and so I've been there, done that and so I know what it feels like," Bedford said.
And as the troops waited to deploy with gift packs including AT&T phone cards and useful items from Home Depot, Santa led them through the airport atrium for an emotional sendoff.
Across the atrium, waiting passengers stood, clapped and cheered as the troops walked, single file, across the open area, heading for their departure.