So what’s the story behind this reading of a holiday classic? Every year the Pentagon shares video of troops all around the world conveying a holiday message. This year, our executive producer Sara Just thought, why not do something different? Have some fun with it? So my fellow producer Morgan Till and I got to brainstorming.
Morgan’s first idea was to ask the DoD to get video of troops in Afghanistan talking about what PBS NewsHour segments they liked the most from 2015. The NewsHour is broadcast on the American Forces Network, and we know troops there watch the show. Many years ago, Morgan produced a piece about American casualties in Afghanistan — who they were, where they were from, how and where they were killed. The day after we ran it, we received an email from an Air Force officer in Afghanistan. He wrote that every morning, he and his fellow airmen watch the NewsHour before they go out on their missions, and when they saw the piece, they all stood a little bit taller and felt appreciated. Morgan recalled this and thought we should hear from these folks again.
We agreed it might be a bit too self-promotional. This should be about the troops. Not the NewsHour.
I thought, what if we ask the troops to sing the NewsHour theme song? But of course, the NewsHour theme song has no lyrics. No again.
Then Morgan came up with an idea. What if we ask the Pentagon to film a unit in Afghanistan reciting the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas?”
We ran into Sara’s office to get her reaction. She loved the idea, but said, “Let’s ask the Pentagon to capture U.S. service men and women all around the world reciting one verse from the poem, and then we could edit it together.”
So that’s what we settled on.
I knew that for this to happen, we had to go to the top of the DoD Public Affairs chain of command to get this approved and executed quickly. I called and emailed my contact there, and within an hour or so received a call from Bobby Bleir, the deputy of production at the Defense Media Activity, which is a division of the Pentagon that creates multimedia content that informs and entertains Defense Department audiences around the world. They publish Stars and Stripes and Soldiers Magazine as well as run the American Forces Network.
It is thanks to Bobby and his team for this heartwarming piece. We hope you all enjoy it and have a very happy holiday season!