A Time to Give Thanks

During my time in the Army, I spent a lot of time away from my family and missed a lot of holidays; Easter, Halloween, Christmas,Thanksgiving, and not to mention birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings.

Thanksgiving was one of those holidays that I really had a hard time with while deployed. Don't get me wrong, the military does a phenomenal job trying to recreate the holiday atmosphere with all of the trimmings and decorations, but it's just not quite the same. My first deployment to Egypt was only a couple of months and luckily it didn't fall over any holidays. We actually redeployed back to Fort Lewis on Thanksgiving Day and I got home just in time to sit down with the family. But because of jet lag, I slept instead. :(

On my other deployments, I wasn't fortunate enough to make it home for the holidays.

On the next puddle jump, I was deployed a stones throw from the Florida coast where I found myself in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for 6 months starting in the summer of 2002. This was my first real experience away from close friends and family during an important holiday. I recall they served two holiday meals that day, both for lunch and dinner. Against my better judgement I decided to go alone to the first meal. The spread was impressive and in steep contrast to the temporary facade our meals were served in. Our chow hall was a gigantic tent like structure that consisted of aluminum beams with treated rubberized canvas pulled taught over the frame (commonly referred to as a 'Clam Shell'). There was a wide selection of food to which included damn near anything you could think of having for thanksgiving, and then some.

I made my way through the line, loading up my tray with whatever struck me at the moment-potatoes, turkey, ham, stuffing, and god knows what else; my eye's growing ever larger than my stomach by the minute. Eventually when I decided that I had finally acquired enough grub, I made my way over to a table and took a seat; a huge mound of food sitting in front of me. My mouth watered as I clenched that fork tightly in my hand. Smelling the aroma coming off the tray in front of me, I couldn't wait any longer and drove that fork straight into the mash potatoes and gravy.

As I loaded that first forkful into my mouth, savoring the flavors as it rolled across my tongue, it hit me; there was something missing this Thanksgiving. There were no friends, no family, and no football playing on the TV. There was no laughter, no drinks, and no children squealing in the background with delight when they saw all of the candies and deserts. At that moment I started to feel very much alone and so incredibly homesick.I fiddled with my heaping plateful of food and started to feel sorry for myself.

Memories of holidays from years past flooded my mind and I began to wonder what my family was doing at that very moment. Were they having fun? Did they wonder how I was doing? I imagined them running around and laughing, not even realizing that I missing. Life was going on without me.

I no longer had the appetite that I started with.

Even though that first meal was a disaster, at the prodding of some battle buddies, I ended up going back to the chow hall later that evening. This time the holiday meal experience turned out considerably better. I soon realized that being surrounded by my second family made it almost as enjoyable a Thanksgiving at home. Well, it at least served as a pleasant distraction.

During the next 3 deployments to sunny destinations inside of Iraq and Afghanistan, I learned from my mistake in Gitmo and was sure to celebrate these future holidays overseas with my Soldiers and my friends.

Every Thanksgiving I'm reminded how much I have to be thankful for. For starters, I'm here writing this, relatively unscathed from my previous experiences. I've been blessed with a LOT of kids, close family, lasting friendships, and an awesome wife.

I pray that families who are without their service member are able to stay strong when they see that empty seat at the table, and that they know their son or daughter is being well taken care of.

During this time I'm reminded of thousands we've lost over the years to include great Americans, like LTC Joe Fenty, SGT Mickel Garrigus, and SGT Blair Emery. They are not forgotten.

I am so incredibly grateful for their service and sacrifice to our nation. Their families remain in my prayers as they continue to battle with their loss. Know that those men and women who aren't ever coming home, are looking down upon us now; forever our guardian angels, soldiering on from above.

For the men and women now serving, I'm am grateful for their service to our country and so very thankful there are those who continue to fill the shoes of the ones that came before them. These sacrifices do not go unnoticed. My hope is that as they sit down to eat that holiday meal thousands of miles from home, that they don't feel the way I once did. And if they do, that they seek out and find that camaraderie and fellowship that they need during these next few weeks.

Enjoy this time with your friends and family. We all have much to be thankful for.

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