EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA -- Santa took a nap, but that didn't stop Sgt. Michel Chausse from masquerading as a reindeer this Christmas.
Sergeant Chausse, 26, of Ellicott City wore a pair of plastic foam antlers instead of his regulation uniform hat. That wasn't the only holiday gear he was packing.
"My mom had given me antlers, a G-string with a Christmas teddy bear and some [holiday] socks. And my girlfriend gave me reindeer boxers," said Sergeant Chausse, who is one of 200 Maryland National Guardsmen stationed here as part of Operation Desert Shield. "I wore them all under my Army uniform. The only thing that could show was my antlers."
For Sergeant Chausse and the other members of the Maryland National Guard's 290th Military Police Company, Christmas in the desert kingdom meant a turkey and ham dinner with all the fixings, served up on a picnic table assembled by the unit only hours before. The Towson-based company arrived in Saudi Arabia Dec. 9 along with the 200th Military Police Company of Salisbury.
Yesterday was a day of firsts for many of the 290th's men and women, a memory marked by sun, sand and shrimp cocktail.
For Spc. T. Ann McElroy, it was the first time at the camp that she had taken a shower during the day. "I found the trick to a warm shower -- wait until after they fill the tanks," said the 23-year-old from Kensington.
For Staff Sgt. Charlene Perkins, this was her first Christmas away from her 9-year-old daughter, Crystal.
"Hopefully, the last one," said Sergeant Perkins, 32, of Baltimore.
"It may not be my best Christmas," added Sgt. William E. McDonald of Woodlawn. "But it certainly will be my most memorable."
The company had their first full afternoon free from work details since arriving at the desert camp some have nicknamed "Oceanless City." There was only one detail everyone still had to participate in -- guarding the perimeter of the camp.
Many took off their B. D. U.s -- battle dress uniforms -- and relaxed in jeans, T-shirts and sweat shirts. Specialists Myrtle Porter and Nellie Kuntz, both of Baltimore, did up their hair. "No training, so I had time to do it," explained Specialist Porter.
The tape players were cranked up, but it was the sounds of Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Scorpions and Tchaikovsky -- not Christmas carols -- that filled the air.
Capt. Anthony Powell, the company commander, said, "Christmas isn't Christmas without presents."
"Give me my wife," Sgt. Lawrence Kirk of Baltimore yelled during the company's morning formation.
Company members received Christmas postcards from children they had never met -- "Roses are red, violets are blue, thank you for fighting for our country, we'll always praise you" -- greetings on evergreen stationery from the governor of Maryland and a ditty bag filled with goodies from former Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen and the Baltimore County Council.
"I hope that's ammo," shouted Specialist Chausse, when the first bag was handed to a soldier. He referred to complaints by some soldiers that they should be permitted to carry live ammunition in their weapons, instead of in a pouch on their belt.
The presents sent by Baltimore County officials included toothbrushes and soap, batteries and a pocket mirror, a crossword puzzle book and a tape of Christmas music, a roll of Lifesavers and a pack of matches from a Randallstown funeral director.