Thanksgiving Deployed

On the eve of Thanksgiving, some of us decided we should gather together for dinner. Normally, we eat in day and night shifts, but we wanted to try to combine both for the holiday. Getting everyone to feast on turkey with stuffing at the same hour was virtually impossible, but we set a time anyway -- 14:15 -- recognizing that some would still have to work. It would be a late meal for the day crew and an early one for the night crew. It promised to be better than foregoing the meal altogether: At least we were doing something to celebrate.

13:00, a time equivalent to 03:00 for those of us on the night crew, came and the only thing that motivated me to crawl out of bed was the knowledge that others were counting on a decent turnout for Thanksgiving dinner. I was excited at the prospect of telling friends and family that we actually had made an attempt at holding festivities. There was a good crowd of us by 14:15, and we plodded over to the chow hall, cracking jokes about what we would do for the weekend, as though we were home and could recognize a weekend. The night crew pointed out that it was about to have Thanksgiving dinner four in the morning (effectively). We were anticipating a good time.

The only thing similar to celebrating Thanksgiving at home was sitting down with a table full of people. It was a family gathering, even though some of us barely know each other. Inside the chow hall, we were greeted by the third-country national workers, from places such as India, Nepal and Pakistan, wearing pilgrim hats. They were trying, but their efforts screamed "Thanksgiving Deployed." Turkey, stuffing and candied yams filled the buffet style line, where the pilgrim-hatted, chow-hall workers speaking in broken English offered huge helpings.

At tables lined with the institutional plastic tablecloths and with our plastic trays before us, we dug in. It was then I silently realized that "Thanksgiving Deployed" was a loathsome event. An uncomfortable quiet took over the tables, as our witty banter and heckling, normally exhibited at every other meal we share, was not present. One by one, people gave up on the feast and departed the tables. Some tried hard to converse and sit for a while, but for some reason we could not emulate the same atmosphere of other meals we share as a shift, day or night.

A cynical account of our Thanksgiving, but after asking others that participated I found that this was indeed the way we spent the holiday. Yes, I acknowledge that there are other service members that did not even get the chance at celebrating Thanksgiving. For the chance, I am grateful, as it illustrated how much Thanksgiving at home is missed!

By Bert Stover |  December 4, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Al Taqaddum, Iraq
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happy thanksgiving (late) and merry christmas (early) to all over yonder in the sandbox!

i know you'll be home soon and writing more may be the last thing you want to do, but let me know if you want another "pen" pal. email address in comment under last entry.

see ya soon, Bert! stay safe until then.

Posted by: ceej | December 5, 2006 07:58 AM

I remember a thanksgiving a long time ago in a country a little bit further to the east of where you are deployed.
We strapped on the Huey 109(UH-1H)at 0500 and did not unstrappe until 2000. We spent the time flying out hot thanksgiving meals to the guys in the field flighting in III corps north of Siagon. My crew and I, with a little prior planning because we knew we would be flying on thanksgiving day, made sure that each of us had a boned turkey "C" rat. So around 1430 we climbed to 2000 feet and the crew chief, gunner and the pilot oppened their "C's" and had a nice thanksgiving trukey dinner, at least in their mind, and after the pilot had finished I let him take the controls and the AC, ate my thanksgiving turkey dinner then it was time to spriial down and drop off another hot meal to the guys in the field. It was not like being at home but it was great to see the greatful look in the eyes of the troops on the ground when we went back to get the back haul. We had at least been able to get them a hot meal even if ours was a thanksgiving of cold boned turkey, cheese and crackers, and peaches and pound cake.
But the best part was, as we pick up out of each LZ, we would get a call on the radio saying "ChickeMan thanks for bringing out such a great meal and a little piece of home.

Posted by: | December 5, 2006 03:42 PM

Bert and all the others, please know that you were in our thoughts and prayers. As I was eating my thanksgiving dinner I thought of all of you and I was thankful for all of you. Though you weren't home with your loved ones, try to think of the "thanks" you will receive when you get home. All of you are our heroes and all of us here at home are anxiously waiting for your return. Just know that we are thankful for you and we pray for you each and every day. Keep a smile on your face and think of the exciting up coming homecoming. It will be a happy happy day.

Posted by: barbi | December 6, 2006 08:40 AM

Bert, I admit that until now I hadn't read any other posts (I actually shouldn't have taken the time to read this one, but I'm glad I did). I am not sure how much longer you are there, but I am involved with a couple of troop support organizations. I know that holidays away from home are very difficult. Please let me know if there is anything I or my friends can do to help. It's not the wisest thing for me to do, posting my e mail address here for all the world to see, but I can't think of another way to give you my contact information, so here goes. cokamimom(AT) Good luck on the rest of your deployment, and God bless. You are loved and appreciated.

Posted by: Sara | December 6, 2006 12:07 PM

Dear Bert, My boyfriend who I lived with prior to his deployment, had the same experience on Thanksgiving. He called me very early in the morning that day, sounding so melancholly. I stayed in bed; Until I went to eat my Thanksgiving meal. I couldn't manage to dress up wear something nice, like I normally do. I wore his Army sweatpants that they issued him in bootcamp.I wear them almost every night. I was jealous of my familie's happiness, and seeing them having all of their loved ones, by their side. A day of sadness and mourning for my loss of a holiday, and for missing my man of honor. I have great respect for what Thanksgiving means to me now. I will always remember what I have. I hope Christmas isn't worse. =( Thank you for writing about your daily life there. Anything to give me knowledge about what my boyfriend is going through helps me understand more from his side of things. Thank you.

Posted by: Heather | December 12, 2006 03:52 AM

Like your outfit, Thanksgiving 1975 in Thailand was a communal (Squadron) event. Our commander managed to arrange for the entire squadron to sit together at the base chow hall, and like you experienced, the Thai dining hall staff tried their darndest to make it a good time for us. Christmas was different. Everyone seemed to go their own way on Christmas Eve. I tried getting drunk (unsucessfully) on a bottle of Boone's Farm as my booze ration had already run its course. It was a long night, filled with thoughts of a wife and kids, a half a world away. Please know that we will be thinking about you this year. Thank you again for your service to our country.
John H.

Posted by: John Hermann | December 12, 2006 09:35 PM

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