Acting defense secretary meets with troops in Middle East as Pentagon begins presidential transition
MANAMA, Bahrain — Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller is serving Thanksgiving meals to troops in the Middle East this week during his first international trip as the Defense Department begins the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
“I will ensure there is an effective transition process because that is what the American people expect from national security professionals,” Miller said Wednesday during a stop in Bahrain.
Miller’s trip comes at a busy time for the Defense Department.
With the official switch to a new administration less than two months away and only being on his new job for a couple of weeks, Miller was already part of a major decision last week to reduce the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some troops will leave Afghanistan and Iraq by Jan. 15, just five days before Biden is sworn into office. The force reduction will leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and 2,500 in Iraq as both countries continue to see violence against government forces and civilians by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and the Taliban.
More so, the Defense Department on Monday was contacted by Biden’s transition team after the U.S. General Services Administration authorized resources and services, such as funding and space in government buildings, to the incoming administration.
“The DOD Transition Task Force will arrange and coordinate all DOD contact with the Biden [transition team]. DOD is prepared to provide post-election services and support in a professional, orderly, and efficient manner that is befitting of the public’s expectation of the department and our commitment to national security,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sue Gough said in a statement.
But as the transition took shape in Washington on Wednesday, Miller toured units on Naval Support Activity Bahrain, including the headquarters for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, and met with sailors on the waterfront.
Later, Miller went to the dining facility on the base to start off the Thanksgiving holiday by meeting with service members and serving them a traditional meal to show appreciation for their service that has taken them far from home.
“Come out and show them a little love, show them some respect, thank them, because with this [coronavirus pandemic], they’re not getting to go home… So it’s really important for me in this position to get out and make the rounds,” Miller said at the start of the trip.
Sailors and Marines lined up to have Miller, as well as some members of his staff, serve them a plethora of food, including roast beef, turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy.
Miller grabbed a plate of food for himself and sat at a table with two sailors and a Marine. Due to the pandemic, plexiglass has been installed on all the dining tables to allow for people to eat together as safely as possible.
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Tayler Maddalena, 28, said it was intimidating to see the acting defense secretary serving the Thanksgiving meal because she said she normally does not talk to such high-ranking people.
“But it was really cool that he came out here and did that for us, especially when he could stay home and be with his family for the holiday,” she said.
While celebrating the holiday is difficult due to the pandemic, Maddalena said people at the base are uniting around the added hardship by looking out for one another, adding she does know people who have it “pretty rough.” She said she is planning to get together with friends Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner and then celebrate Friday with her colleagues in the mental health clinic.
Yeoman 3rd Class Tevin Warren, 28, said the pandemic has made it hard to have the same camaraderie that is usually felt during the holidays.
“It makes it a bit harder because you’re away from family but then the family you have here, you can’t really enjoy it the way that you want to,” he said.
Warren said it might not seem like it but it meant a lot to see Miller spending the holiday with them, and that it showed he cared.
Yeoman Seaman Rattanavalee Buranapim, 19, is spending her first Thanksgiving away from home this year.
“It’s been difficult but it’s a new experience,” she said.
While she cannot be home with her family, Buranapim said the Navy is her second family.
“I’m really grateful and thankful to be where I am right now, even though it’s really hard. But I chose to do this and I’m always thankful for it,” she said.