Soldiers serving on Camp Taji, Iraq, made the best of another holiday away from home Thanksgiving Day with several celebrations ranging from sports tournaments to a traditional turkey dinner.

The troops, belonging to the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, deployed to Iraq in March, and have been busy serving as members of the only aviation brigade supporting Operation New Dawn - the brigade flew over 15,000 hours this month alone.

For the brigade's troops who did not fly missions this Thanksgiving, it was their first break in months.

The day started with the 5k Turkey Trot, a "fun run" across Camp Taji. Soldiers also participated in flag football, basketball, soccer, and volleyball tournaments.

The brigade hosted a Thanksgiving meal at their dining facility, serving nearly 5,400 service members and civilians plates of turkey, ham, pie, stuffing, and other traditional treats. In keeping with an Army tradition, the brigade's senior leaders served the food to their troops.

"This Thanksgiving is different because I have a different family here," Staff Sgt. Diego Ryland, of Norfolk, Va. "I'm missing my immediate family at home, but I've got my Army family here, and it's still a joyous occasion."

Ryland and the rest of his unit, Company B, 601st Aviation Support Battalion, stopped their daily operations to participate in the day's celebrations.

"The best part of Thanksgiving here is just relaxing and having a day off," said Ryland.

Sgt. Christopher Stevens and Cpl. Creshawna Stevens, a married couple serving with the brigade, also participated in the day's celebrations.

Christopher is serving his second tour in Iraq, but it is his wife's first Thanksgiving away from home. The couple left behind their two children, a 7 year old and 2 year old, who they said will be spending the holidays with their grandmother.

"It makes it a little bit better to have a quarter of the family here," said Christopher, a native of Baltimore, Md.

"I don't think anything can compare to the home cooked meal, but we're blessed every day to have each other here, so we're thankful for that," said Creshawna.

"We miss the rest of our family, but we miss them every other day, too," she said.

Spc. Curtis Chandler, another Soldier from Company B and native of Elba, Ala., said the celebrations were the last thing he expected to be doing in Iraq.

"I thought it'd be a normal workday," he said. "It's good to get out here and get my mind off missing the family for a few hours."

Chandler added that while he missed Thanksgiving in Alabama, he welcomed the holiday as an indicator that he will be getting home soon. The unit will remain in Iraq through the rest of the holiday season, but will return to Fort Riley, Kan., this spring.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16