Service members celebrating a ‘takeout’ Thanksgiving in Afghanistan
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 26, 2020
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Like many Americans back home, troops deployed to Afghanistan are celebrating Thanksgiving differently this year because of the coronavirus.
Bases have typically covered the dining facilities with seasonal decorations, while senior officers and enlisted leaders carved and served turkey and roast beef. Bands performed live music.
In 2020, meals will be put in doggie bags and troops will eat them at a safe distance from one another.
“This year’s Thanksgiving meal will be ’to-go‘ only and socially-distanced to prevent the spread of [the coronavirus],” NATO’s U.S.-led Resolute Support mission said in an emailed statement. “However, the holiday is no less important or meaningful to those of us serving to prevent safe havens for terror, which threaten our homeland.”
For Pfc. Agnieszka Maslanka, a soldier from North Carolina on her first deployment to the country, the camaraderie among her fellow troops has made it easier to stay positive despite restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“I’m very thankful for the people I work with,” Maslanka was quoted in a statement the Resolute Support press office provided in response to Stars and Stripes questions. “When you are away from your family on the holidays it is nice to know I still have an Army family.”
California native Audrey Novick, a Marine captain, was thankful to spend the holiday with her fellow troops, but she said she was especially grateful for her family back home in light of her experiences this year and the pandemic.
“I really thought more about how much my family means to me and I realize I really should not take anything for granted, not even the basics like health,” she said.
Americans are being warned to avoid large family gatherings this holiday, as coronavirus cases continue to rise, with more than 250,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, over 45,000 people have tested positive for the virus and 1,712 have died from it, the country’s health ministry has said. The number of people who have contracted the virus but not been tested is thought to be much higher.
The Pentagon has refused to disclose the number of infected coalition troops and contractors in the country for security reasons, although there have been several reports of infections throughout the year.
There are currently about 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with that number set to drop to 2,500 by mid-January. Under a U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February, all foreign forces could withdraw from the country by May, if certain conditions are met.
That could mean this will be the last Thanksgiving in Afghanistan for troops like Army Staff Sgt. Dewayne Gordon, a father of three daughters.
“This year made me appreciate the things that are really important,” said Gordon, who is from Nevada. “I think COVID gave everyone a little more perspective.”
Marine Corps Capt. Audrey Novick, a California native, is one of thousands of U.S. troops spending Thanksgiving in Afghanistan this year. Novick is thinking about her family more this holiday because of the coronavirus pandemic, she said Nov. 25, 2020.