In Baghdad, Thanksgiving brings surprises, thoughts of home
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Like generations of American troops before him, Sgt. Arnaldo Rosario got to eat a traditional dinner on Thanksgiving, even though he was thousands of miles from home.
He was grateful for the special meal, enjoyed the food, but like those same earlier generations, found his thoughts tending toward home, which for Rosario is the Washington Heights section of New York City.
Rosario, 24, is with Company B, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment at Firebase Melody in Baghdad. The battalion is part of the 1st Armored Division, which has operational responsibility for Baghdad, the tense Iraqi capital.
And while the battalion couldn’t bring the troops home for Thanksgiving, it did what it could to bring a touch of Thanksgiving home to the troops.
Its cooks laid on a Thanksgiving classic — shrimp cocktail, roast turkey, lobster, crab legs, glazed ham, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, savory bread dressing, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, seasoned green beans, corn on the cob, gravy, potato salad, tossed salad, macaroni salad, country-style tomato salad, cookies, cake, pies (apple, cherry and pumpkin) assorted breads, and a variety of hot and cold beverages, including eggnog.
“This is a lot better than I expected,” said Rosario. “I thought it was just gonna be, ‘All right, let’s decorate the place up, give them some food, and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.’”
Besides the elaborate spread, Rosario was impressed and grateful to discover that the battalion’s officers had done an extra something to give the troops the best Thanksgiving they could. They stood guard posts that the enlisted soldiers would normally stand. And they worked as servers, setting turkey, stuffing and gravy onto the white plastic plates the soldiers held out in the chow line.
“It makes you feel good, eatin’ with all your friends, enjoying your meal,” he said.
And yet, for Rosario and at least some of his buddies in the battalion, this overcast Thanksgiving 2003 in Baghdad was a day of mixed feelings.
“But then you step outside and realize you’re still in Iraq,” he said. “… Of course it brings back all the times with your family. Just makes you miss home even more. I’m pretty family-oriented.”
It was similar for Pfc. Matthew Sutton, 27, of Taylor, Texas, a machine gunner with Company B.
His wife, Jami, and their 7-month-old daughter, Madison Marie, live in Butzbach, Germany.
“I wish I could be there for ’em,” said Sutton, “I wish I could be there with ’em. What would I be doin’? Be helpin’ my wife. Playing with my daughter. Makin’ her laugh. …”
Spc. Alexis Weathers, 21, of Woodbridge, Va., is a cook with the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
“Right now, since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m trying not to think about my family because if I think about my family, I’m gonna get mad and I’m gonna want to go home.”
Sgt. John Blanton is first cook in the same company. He said he wouldn’t want to leave Iraq unless the entire battalion went back, and only then if the U.S. military’s mission in Iraq was fully achieved.
“I’ve lost friends. … I want to make sure I do my time,” he said.
But he, too, looks forward to rejoining his family.
“I won’t be home until May,” he said, “but that’s something to be thankful for.”