Raider, Dagger Soldiers celebrate Thanksgiving in Iraq
December 1, 2010
<b>BAGHDAD</b> - When asked what he was thankful for, the first thing that came to mind for Pfc. Eli Taylor was not good food, or good health or any typical Thanksgiving Day response.
"I took a ride on my first convoy today, so I am just thankful I did not get blown up," he said with a smile.
Private First Class Taylor, an information technology specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, and native of Ventura, Calif., deployed to Iraq less than a month ago and spent his Thanksgiving Day like almost every other day here, surrounded by other Soldiers and servicemembers on Forward Operating Base Hammer.
For lunch, the dining facility was transformed into a decorated hall, complete with an ice sculpture and artistically carved fruit. But standing behind the steaming trays of food such as sweet corn, mashed potatoes, ham and cornbread that completed the traditional Thanksgiving meal were not the usual employees of the dining facility.
Wearing white paper hats and plastic aprons, the senior leaders from 1st AAB, 3rd Inf. Div., and 2nd AAB, 1st ID, stood smiling, armed with ladles and serving prongs, giving the Soldiers their meals and wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving.
As Pfc. Taylor and Pfc. Eugene Reader, a multi-channel transmissions systems operator maintainer with HHC, 1/18 Inf. sat down after receiving their food, they were still looking around and laughing.
"Honestly, I barely even know it is Thanksgiving," Pfc. Reader, a native of Salt Lake City, Utah, said. "If they didn't have all this I wouldn't even remember."
For Lt. Col. Jeffrey Denius, that was the most rewarding part.
"It's fun to see their reaction," Lt. Col. Denius, the commander for 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st AAB, explained. "It's also great that we are having Thanksgiving in the [dining facility]. We have traditional food, and there's an opportunity to let everyone enjoy themselves. Three years ago, we were having Thanksgiving surrounded by humvees as we were trying to move to a secure location.
"Iraq has come a long way," Lt. Col. Denius continued. "And it's great that all the Soldiers in Iraq right now are eating like this, not just the Soldiers on big FOBs."
This will be the last holiday 1st AAB celebrates in Iraq this deployment.
"I am thankful we are bringing everybody back in one piece," said Command Sgt. Maj. Thilo Hendricks, the command sergeant major for 3/69 Armor. "We are very fortunate to have the guys and gals that we have in the battalion."
Although they are so close to returning, celebrating Thanksgiving away from family was the hardest part.
"Being with the family, seeing the grandkids grow up, that's what I miss the most," said Command Sgt. Maj. Hendricks, a native of Columbus, Ohio. "But being able to have a DFAC to sit down and have that camaraderie with your fellow Soldiers and other servicemembers is awesome. It kind of gives it a homey feel, even though everybody knows they would rather be at home."
Colonel Roger Cloutier and Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson, the commander and command sergeant major for 1st AAB, 3rd Inf. Div., traveled from FOB Hammer to Victory Base Complex, making stops at two dining facilities on Camp Liberty to serve more Soldiers.
Colonel Paul Calvert and Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Lewis, the command team for 2nd AAB, 1st ID, also continued from FOB Hammer on to Camp Liberty, and visited three dining facilities there.
"It's a pleasant surprise," said Spc. Cory Moore, an infantryman from C. Co., 2nd Bn., 7th Infantry Rgt. 1st AAB, about seeing the command teams serving. "It definitely made my day. I just got back from a long mission yesterday, and it is small things like this that definitely lift your spirits."
Although Spc. Moore, a native of Kingsport, Tenn., said he misses his family, he doesn't think being in Iraq for the holiday was a bad thing. "You count your blessings so much more over here. I am going home in a couple weeks, so things are brightened up a little bit. But it's not really a hardship [being here], because this was something I have wanted to do for a long time. [My family] supports me, so it makes moments like this easier."
For a few Soldiers, being in Iraq didn't mean they were apart from family.
Sergeant Misty Jordi and Sgt. Matthew Jordi were two of those lucky Soldiers.
"Most of the deployment, we were at different locations, but we have gotten to spend the last six weeks of the deployment together, after both our companies moved [to VBC]," explained Misty. "It's nice to actually have family here, because most people don't. They have to call home to say "Happy Thanksgiving," and I woke up this morning and just said "Happy Thanksgiving."
The two, who are both part of 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st AAB, have been married for 12 years, but they still don't take it for granted that they were able to be together for this holiday.
"I am so thankful that we got to be able to be together, because it doesn't always work out that way," said Matthew, a human intelligence collector with A. Co., 1-3 BSTB, and a native of Bellingham, Mass.
"They did a great job here making it feel as much like home as they can," explained Misty, a satellite communications operator maintainer with B. Co., 1-3 BSTB, and a native of Yukon, Okla.
Almost on cue, she was interrupted by the post-wide intercom alerting everyone about an upcoming test fire.
Laughing, Misty continued, "Stuff like that reminds you we are here. As much as it is difficult being away from home and family, I think it is neat just being able to have the experiences that we do and to be able to serve over here."