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!
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