Remembering A Deployed Thanksgiving
by Scott Sturkol, U.S. Army Fort McCoy PAO
Back in 2003, I was spending my
Thanksgiving away from my family on a deployment for Operation Iraqi
Freedom in Southwest Asia. It wasn’t my first deployment, but it was
my first Thanksgiving away from home.
Illustration of turkeys wearing the uniform of the respective military service wishing fellow Americans a Happy Thanksgiving that is celebrated on November 24th
... that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed as a national holiday in 1863. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Marine Corps graphic by Lance Cpl. Joanna Stauss.)
First, as many veterans
already know, when you are deployed in support of an overseas
military operation, you pretty much work every day. As I recall, my
Thanksgiving began like every other deployed day ... which by that
time had been more than five months into the deployment.
remember getting up at my usual 5 a.m. time to get ready for work.
That involved packing up my personals, a towel and hiking quietly
out of the tent over to the shower facility about 1/8th of a mile
away. After getting pretty for the day, I put on my desert
camouflage uniform and headed off to breakfast and then to work at
the Combined Air Operations Center ... U.S. Central Command’s
headquarters for air operations in their area of responsibility.
I remember the walk to the dining facility tent for breakfast
was in temperatures that were fairly comfortable. November in that
area of the world begins one of the cooler months where daily highs
only got up to 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn’t like when I
went there in June and dealt with temps as high as 110 degrees.
At the dining facility tent, which was essentially an area of
five large tents connected together, I noticed a sign at the front
that said later that evening they would be serving a Thanksgiving
dinner with turkey, mashed potatoes and all sorts of other dishes. I
was a bit surprised of the spread that was planned given the fact
that we were in a tent city in a fairly remote area. Nonetheless, I
was happy to see the meal plans and looked forward to the evening
After a tasty bit of powdered eggs, toast, and coffee,
I headed out on the walk to work. Now while I can’t say what I did
at work that day nor what the work environment looked like, I can
say that all the same people I worked with every day were there just
like me doing the exact same type of work we did leading up to that
Thanksgiving day. It looked and seemed like a normal day but the
thought of the evening meal stayed in the back of my mind.
recall at about midway through our work day came an announcement
over the phone that we would be allowed to leave early if we
finished up our tasks a little quicker. You didn’t have to ask me
twice. I wrapped up my normal 10-hour work day within a half-hour
after the call making it a 7-hour work day.
And, the best
part was it was two hours from when the evening meal would start. I
packed up all my work items, put them into my ruck sack and out the
door I went back to my tent. At my tent, I took some time to write a
letter to my wife and family who were then living at Grand Forks Air
Force Base, N.D.
In the letter, I wrote about what the day
was like and how the weather was. I also described what the camp had
planned for Thanksgiving dinner.
I told her that it in no way
matches up to what we would have had put together as a family but it
was nice to know that it would be a meal that we could enjoy with
each other and maybe, just maybe, give us a small feel of home.
I also said in my letter home that I appreciated the recent care
package she sent.
It had some homemade cookies, some outdoor
magazines, candy, and some coffee which I would share with my
comrades. It meant a lot to get the cookies especially because they
were Bobbi’s special chocolate chip cookies.
I received about
five dozen in the care package but I think they only lasted about a
day because I shared them with all kinds of people at work.
just set them out by the coffee pot there and they disappeared from
there. Of course I hogged a couple dozen for myself because, well,
that’s just how that goes.
I finished the letter, put it in
an envelope, and headed to our special deployed Thanksgiving dinner,
dropping the letter at the postal tent along the way.
got to the dining hall tent, there was a very long line of folks but
it seemed to be moving fairly quickly.
I waited in line with
some pals for about 30 minutes before we got inside the door. When I
got in, it seemed like the place completely transformed from the
lunch meal I had in the same place just a few hours before.
There were white tablecloths on all the tables. And, at each table,
were letters and notes from people back home in the United States.
The food was all set up in one of the adjacent room tents. As it
turns out, a bunch of U.S. companies in cooperation with the United
Services Organization, or USO, had the large meal shipped over from
Our best and brightest military chefs worked for
the better part of two days getting it all ready for Thanksgiving
and they did all the decorating.
Over some speakers came some
familiar holiday tunes that included some Christmas tunes even
though it was Thanksgiving.
I just remember seeing a lot of
eating, laughing and people looking happy.
Those happy faces
were a change from what I normally saw at dinner time at the dining
hall tent so I knew everyone in the room was thankful to be having a
little taste of home.
I ended up eating about three helpings
of turkey and the other fixings. All the while, I sat there feeling
thankful for the people I was there with supporting the mission we
were supporting. I was glad to among those many people who were
aways from their families as well because they ended up being my
family that far away from home.
That was the first year of
Operation Iraqi Freedom and that Thanksgiving took place only a
short time after I had returned from Iraq where I was forward
deployed for some time. I was thankful just to have survived those
several months leading up to the holiday.
Thanksgiving may have seemed somewhat uneventful in this story but
think about being in a foreign land far away from your home and
family on this ever-so-special holiday about family togetherness.
Just being away from my loved ones was tough enough and missing
the holiday with them was even tougher.
So this Thanksgiving,
as you gather around your table to cut the turkey, I ask that you
say a few words to each other to remember those who can’t be home
for the holiday.
Be thankful for their sacrifice and
willingness to serve in places that 99 percent of Americans will
And ... be thankful for their service to protect the
freedoms that all Americans enjoy every day.
We The People
Answering The Call |
One Nation Under God |
Love and Pride of USA
National Will |
God and Country |
America, My Home!