Elaina Mattei has spent numerous Christmases without her father while he was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq over many years.
"I felt sad and alone and I felt something was missing for Christmas," Mattei said today.
Her father, who can count the times he's had to spend the holidays away from his family on two hands because of deployment, says the hard job is really the families.
"For us it's easy to just go to one place and adapt to the situation. For the families, it's never so easy," Sgt. Fernando Mattei of the US Army says.
While the Mattei family will be together this Christmas, many other families are not so lucky.
Today the USO tried to help fill in those missing pieces for the children who have a parent deployed and unable to be home for the holidays this season, with a big party at Joint Base Myer in Ft Myer Virginia.
The company Health Net forgo their company holiday party this year and instead treated about 250 children of service members from four DC metropolitan-area bases whose parents deployed to a special treat . The day was filled with holiday food, moon bounces, karaoke face painting, magic acts, Santa and Mrs. Clause, and toys galore at community center on base disguised as the North Pole.
Zayra Trevino's husband, who just deployed to Afghanistan this October won't be home for the holiday this year and says a community event like today's will help her two children cope.
"It's hard but like I tell my kids, just remember the most important thing, he's working. He's doing his job and he's always going to come home," Trevino said, "So let's make the best of it while he's gone."
Making " the best of it," today meant a whole lot of holiday cheer, a welcome distraction for service members and family from missing their loved one stationed abroad or elsewhere around the country.
"When you have the opportunity to spend a day like today, get the kids out of the house, and get their mind off a parent being deployed," Col. Carl Coffman of the Joint Base Myer said, "They can just come out here and have a good time."
While many troops are coming home from Iraq this year, it has not stopped deployments elsewhere. Locally there were at least three deployments this week, right before the holidays.
"Our military is under tremendous pressure these days from constant deployments, "Elaine Rogers, President and COO of the USO Metropolitan Washington, "It's tough on the families, and our job, the USO is a kind of home away from home to let people know we truly care."