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Holiday Card for Troops in Bosnia Sent --on Video : Musical: About 700 well-wishers, a choir and an orchestra take part in outpouring of Christmas song and spirit.

December 17, 1995|FRANK MESSINA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA HILLS — Their first days in Bosnia during the holidays will be spent clearing a swamp, erecting huge tents in the snow and planning dangerous convoys into war-torn areas.

Some Christmas.

But the initial wave of U.S. soldiers in Bosnia will not be alone on Christmas Day. About 700 well-wishers from Orange County will be there to greet them--on television.

As video cameras rolled at Lake Hills Community Church on Friday, parishioners and members of the public paid tribute to the troops in an outpouring of Christmas song and spirit.

The video postcard will be rushed to the Armed Forces Network, which plans to have the hourlong performance in Bosnia on Monday for viewing by the troops Christmas Day.

"Our soldiers will be digging trenches, they'll be in tents," said Steve Gooden, 28, of Orange, who had the idea for the postcard. "We just want to make them feel at home on Christmas of all days."

As during Desert Storm, Armed Forces Network officials say they are being swamped with cards, letters and video Christmas wishes for the troops.

But the Orange County show, "An American Christmas in Bosnia--A Video Postcard to Our Troops," probably will be the only lengthy musical tribute reaching U.S. forces.

"There's been a tremendous amount of response from the American public, particularly as people see the troops in the cold, far away from family and friends," said network director Melvin Russell, "but there's been hardly any calls for this type of service."

The audience listened to a church choir and a volunteer orchestra from Fullerton College and joined the traditional Christmas songs such as the "Hallelujah Chorus."

The evening saw a few long technical delays, but was highlighted by a phone call from Bob Hope, who thanked everyone over the intercom.

Gooden said he was motivated to put the show together after hearing that his brother, a U.S. serviceman stationed in Turkey, would not be able to come home for Christmas because of the decision to send troops to Bosnia.

"We fear that he will be involved," Gooden said. "We were looking forward to spending Christmas with him, but that's not the case anymore."

Gooden, an unaffiliated minister who runs the youth religious group "No Compromise Ministries," recently made headlines with an anti-racism campaign called "Love Mark Fuhrman, to Help End Racism." He also gained attention at the 1992 Republican National Convention with a Christian rap act.

Gooden said he wanted to send his brother a video holiday postcard, an increasingly popular form of high-tech Christmas greetings. Then he thought, "Why stop there?" he said.

Just 11 days ago, Gooden contacted the Lake Hills Community Church, which has a 1,500-seat auditorium, and church officials threw themselves into helping organize the event.

Col. Bill Hammerle, commanding officer of the Tustin Marine Corps Air Base, said he has "been on the other end of many Christmases away from home. This is the time when you miss your family and friends the most."

For the soldiers, he said, a gift like the video postcard is something "that you carry with you for hours, days, until you're home."

Tustin Marine base Chaplain Tim Janning said the deployment of troops "is a worthwhile thing. It's part of the spirit of Christmas, because after all, they are trying to bring us peace on earth."

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