Troops express thanks, share the holiday meal with Iraqis
FOB WARRIOR, Iraq — Soldiers stationed in north-central Iraq celebrated a cheerful but contemplative Thanksgiving, thousands of miles and a war zone apart from their families.
Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division of Ft. Campbell, Ky., kicked off the day with a real American tradition: football. In the cool and surprisingly autumn-like morning, Air Force and Army teams cheerfully tossed the pigskin on a dusty, makeshift football field.
Despite the lack of family, real alcohol and home cooking, soldiers cheerfully tucked into their meals.
Brigade officers dished out turkey, prime rib, Cornish hen, smoked ham, lobster, crab, shrimp — not to mention a slew of vegetables, including mashed potatoes, yams and green beans. Fake wine and eggnog rounded out the meal, which was finished by a collection of pies and pastries.
War-zone trappings, plastic plates and serving utensils notwithstanding, many expressed thanks on the occasion.
Master Sgt. Michael Manning, 43, of Charlotte, N.C., said he was thankful for “the love of a good wife that doesn’t mind me finishing up a long career in Iraq.” His wife, he said, is celebrating with her parents this year.
“I am thankful for my Lord and saviour Jesus Christ,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Steve Felderman, 40, of St. Anne, Ill. “I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve my country and make a difference for these people over here.”
When asked whether he would prefer to spend the holiday with his family, he demurred.
“There is a time to be home and a time to be away to help others,” he said. “This is my time to be away.”
“I’m thankful that I’m still alive,” said Sgt. Jonathan Lincoln, 26, of Weiser, Idaho, “that I haven’t been blown up or shot.”
“I’m thankful that the war on terror is focused here and not at home,” said Spc. Nicholas Malcolm, 22, of Waterford. Mich.
Around 1:40 p.m., a detonation erupted on the base. A plume of smoke rose near one of the gates, within sight of the mess hall. An alarm was sounded. Officials later reported that it was a U.S.-controlled detonation of weapons.
In a move reminiscent of the first Thanksgiving, base leaders invited local residents — Iraqi government and military leaders — to celebrate alongside them.
“It’s a great day for us,” said Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Anwer H. Amen, of 2nd Brigade, 4th Division in Kirkuk. “The coalition guys, they liberated our country. I’m going to pray for the American nation. I am asking God to save all the Americans, from the bottom of my heart.”
“Thanks for inviting us,” said Farman Jeff, a translator for the local Iraqi police, in English. “This is my first time to enjoy this celebration. It’s great for our country to have a chance to celebrate with your people.”
At the brigade’s smaller bases, including forward operating bases Bernstein, Gaines-Mills and McHenry, soldiers celebrated to a more modest spread. FOB McHenry received a surprise visit from Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey.
Brigade commander Col. David Gray toured the three outposts to spread Thanksgiving cheer and to speak with troops.
“I’m thankful for my family, thankful for the opportunity and privilege to command these great sons and daughters of America,” he said. “It’s humbling to be here on this great day of thanksgiving.”