(SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN) The holidays can be a stressful time for Americans all across the country. The purchasing, preparing, and serving of the best traditional Thanksgiving feast and hosting family from out-of-town while cleaning up after all your beloved friends and family can be taxing. However, for deployed service members in Afghanistan, their Thanksgiving holiday felt like just another day working in an unpredictable and hazardous environment. Except this meal, there’s turkey and ham, and a British Army General serving them.
This was the reality for service members located at three forward operating bases in Southeastern Afghanistan this Thanksgiving. U.K. Army Brigadier Leigh R. Tingey, Commanding General, Task Force-Southeast and Deputy Commanding General-Maneuver, 1st Armored Division, accompanied by several fellow senior leaders, flew to three different outposts to bring the service members under his command a taste of home this Thanksgiving.
“It really is an honor to be served by someone like him-they don’t have to come all the way out here, but they’re spending their Thanksgiving serving us. It was pretty nice,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Miller, a Chicago, Illinois native. Miller is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard, and he is currently supporting Task Force-Southeast’s mission across seven different provinces in Southeastern Afghanistan. Miller is just one of hundreds of Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support.
When asked what they missed most about home during this holiday season, their answers were fairly common: spouses, children, pets, and, of course, watching the Chicago Bears on live television.
For U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Gleeson, another Chicago native, the holiday season means more to his family. Gleeson’s wife moved to the United States from her native Brazil, so Gleeson says she is far more understanding of his time away from home than those born and raised in America.
“She came to this country to have a better life. She is really grateful that I am out here defending our nation so that people like her can hopefully have the same liberties and freedoms that she has now,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I miss them any less, but knowing that they support what I’m doing makes it a little easier.”
For several Task Force-Southeast Soldiers, like Spc. Devin Creech and Pvt. 1st Class Dakota Meece, this is their first overseas deployment. Creech and Meece, natives of Gallup, New Mexico and Russell Springs, Kentucky, respectfully, are both assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Creech’s daughter celebrated her first birthday on Thanksgiving Day, and he was looking forward to ending his shift while on guard duty so he could call and tell her “Happy Birthday”.
“It’s hard being away from them, especially missing my little girl’s first birthday, but we have a important mission out here," Creech said. “Today, we ate something other than MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat), which we all looked forward to.”
Creech is among the Soldiers assigned to Mission Support Site (MSS) Sultan, one of Task Force-Southeast’s three major stations. Soldiers typically eat pre-packaged meals three times a day with no dining facility or food service workers on the outpost. The arrival of Brig. Tingey and his team meant hot chow for the first time in weeks. One Soldier in particular made sure their visit went smoothly and that enough food was flown in for the occasion.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Philip Piennette, a South Bend, Indiana native, coordinated Tingey’s visit by arranging the transportation of meals from a larger base, and staffed the event so that all Soldiers were able to partake in the long-standing tradition of senior leadership serving their Soldiers holiday meals.
“Anytime commanders do a battlefield circulation, it has a positive impact on Soldiers, especially at a remote outstation,” he said. “It’s great for younger Soldiers to see the command teams and know that, even if it was a lot of work to get here, they did it because they truly care.”
Piennette is currently on his fourth combat deployment, indicative of his service as an 11B Infantryman. He is assigned to the 3rd Security Forces Assistance Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas.
At the command team’s second stop of the day, a larger base in Logar province, the facilities were more built-up, but the dining facility was still housed in a large tent. Anyone wishing to enter had to first fill a sand bag for use in reinforcing defensive positions. Tingey and his team walked straight up to the pile of sand and began diligently filling bags, which came as a surprise to the Soldiers.
“It’s common to see senior leadership visit during the holidays, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a general officer filling sand bags right next to us. It’s nice to see that he (Tingey) and the rest of them aren’t above doing what we do three times a day,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Tyler Herbrandson of Sparta, Tennessee. Both he and his “battle buddy” Sgt. Kevin Puckett, from Haines City, Florida, are deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
While they both say it is hard to be away from their families during the holidays, they say they’ll cherish the memories they’ve created during this, their first deployment.
They said, “If we can’t be here without our real families, the next best thing is to share it with our combat family.”