By PV2 Jesus J. Aranda, 25th Infantry Division Public AffairsDecember 3, 2008
Soldiers bustled around the dining facility, chatting, laughing and, perhaps, feeling more at home, if only for one meal. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Willie Taylor Jr. noted how some of the smaller things could take him back home.
"Sweet potato pie is the dish I love the most here," said Taylor, eyeing a healthy slice of the pie sitting on his dish. "Back home it was the main dish. My wife would make it for me every year."
For many Americans, the timeless feeling of Thanksgiving can only be experienced with close friends, family, and, a turkey feast. During the holiday season the absence of loved ones can be especially noticeable. For Taylor, being separated from family during holidays has become a common occurrence due to his job.
Taylor is serving as the brigade targeting officer with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Tropic Lightning troops from Hawaii recently started their deployment in northern Iraq.
"This is my third deployment in a row," said Taylor. "All of which were with the 25th Infantry Division."
Taylor has enjoyed significant success spanning over his three deployments, including two promotions within the warrant officer ranks.
With success came sacrifice, however, as Taylor's continuous deployments meant many months away from his loved ones.
"It's very, very hard being away from the children now," Taylor said. "I had a chance to speak with them the other day, so that helps a lot."
Deployed Soldiers have a multitude of ways of communicating with their loved ones back home in the United States.
Where a simple telephone call was once the standard, e-mails and videos broadcast via the internet have made the geographic distance between families and deployed Soldiers inconsequential for staying in touch.
Keeping in contact with people in the U.S. can be an effective way to fight off feelings of homesickness, but Taylor feels the same holiday spirit on C.O.B. Speicher which he would have experienced back at home.
"It feels like a holiday here," Taylor said. "The decorations, pretty good food here in the chow hall, everyone is in a great mood. It's like being back in Hawaii."
The only thing which Taylor, as well as many others, found lacking during their turkey meal was a good game of football to watch on television.
"Thanksgiving isn't the same without football," Taylor said.
Due to the drastic difference in time zones between the two countries, American football doesn't make it onto television in Iraq until the very late evening.
"I wanted to watch a game, but there would be no football until tonight," said Taylor. "I'll try to catch a game or part of a game before bed."
In the absence of competitive sports during his meal, Taylor enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow Soldiers.
Taylor dined with several members of his unit, such as Sgt. 1st Class Darren Fox, and Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Alexander. Taylor admits, in the absence of his real family, the members of his unit were just as close to one another.
"Everybody in the unit is pretty close," Taylor said. "I can pretty much sit down with anybody in my unit and feel like one of them. It's a great feeling."
The meal, the close friends, and the environment: All of these things combined make up what many Americans consider to be staples of the holiday season. At C.O.B. Speicher this year, all of these things were present, making the Taylor's U.S. Army's family feast very similar his family in the states.
Taylor may not have had his actual family this year, but at least he had his slice of sweet potato pie.