By Sgt. 1st Class Rick Emert; 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsNovember 27, 2007
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, were treated to turkey and all the trimmings for their second consecutive Thanksgiving in Iraq.
The festivities were bittersweet for most. It was a second holiday steeped with tradition spent on the opposite side of the globe as their families, but it also was a step closer to redeployment.
"In the countdown, this is another step along the way; we're that much closer to going home," said Spc. Mindy Saindon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd "Spearhead" Battalion, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div., a native of Derby, Kan.
Saindon is one of many 1st ACB Soldiers that will also spend a second consecutive Christmas deployed to Iraq. The Soldiers find ways to deal with spending so many holidays away from family and friends in the states.
"You look at it as just another day, except on this particular day, we get yams," said Spc. Dawn Murgia, also from HHC, 3-227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, drawing laughter from her battle buddies sitting nearby.
Despite eating their holiday meal in a dining facility in Iraq, the air of celebration was almost palpable amid the hundreds of decorations and intricate holiday displays created by the dining facility's staff.
The Soldiers also had the treat of being served by those they normally serve under.
"It was a real boost to have the chain of command serving us our holiday meal," Saindon said. The brigade and battalion leaders took turns serving out heaping portions of food to the Soldiers, civilians and contractors.
"It was a nice opportunity to talk to the troops on the holiday," said Zapata, Texas, native Master Sgt. Noe Barrera, logistics noncommissioned officer in charge for 1st ACB. "The people going through the line were pretty upbeat. I'm sure they are not happy to be here on Thanksgiving, but you could tell by the masses that came out that they really wanted that Thanksgiving meal."
Barrera's wife, Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Barrera of the 15th Sustainment Brigade based at Fort Hood, Texas, was deployed with him in Iraq until October. She is now home with their son, Noe Isael Barrera
"It's comforting to me that she is there with my son now, so my son doesn't have to go another holiday with both of his parents deployed," he said.
For other Soldiers, even the variety of foods served for the holiday meal didn't make up for spending the holiday away from family - and it wasn't the same as home cooking.
"My grandmother cooks better," said Spc. Erica Avent, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st ACB, a native of Fuquay-Varina, N.C. "My family always gets together at my grandma's house for Thanksgiving, and everybody cooks enough food to feed three armies."
Avent also was deployed to Iraq last Thanksgiving.
"Last year, the families on both my mother's and father's sides got together, and I was able to talk to them with a webcam," she said. "It's hard to deal with being here a second time on Thanksgiving, because this holiday is really about family. It's not about food."
Still, some of her grandma's sweet potato casserole could have improved things a little, she said.
While the atmosphere at the dining facility was festive, it just wasn't the same as being home for many Soldiers who said they would rather have been watching the Thanksgiving Day parade - or a Thanksgiving NFL game - with family and friends.
"All of the decorations make me miss my family that much more," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Sanchez, Company D, 1st "Attack" Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, a native of Dallas. Sanchez has spent three of the last four Thanksgivings in Iraq. "It's a time of year you really want to be home."
For Soldiers from the 1st ACB however, that homecoming is nigh.
"I saw a lot of Soldiers in the serving line who were really upbeat," Barrera said. "There were a lot of unit patches in that (dining facility) that were not from 1st Cav. That's a big sign that we are going home soon."