Monday, November 21, 2011

For US Soldiers, last Thanksgiving in Iraq comes a few days early

It was November 2004 and I, along with 5000 of my Marine and Seabee shipmates were spending Thanksgiving Day in Fallujah. The Battle of Fallujah had kicked off in early November and was still going well into December 2004. Thanksgiving Day was a quiet one and all were looking forward to a good meal as during the weeks before, things had been so crazy we only got one hot meal a day. Supply convoys were having difficulty making it from Baghdad to Fallujah due to insurgents and that limited the fresh food we got.

This year, 7 years later, the troops are finishing up in Iraq and had to have Thanksgiving Day Dinner a few days early as the last DFAC will be closing down. The troops are coming home and that is a good thing. Iraq is a free country and I feel we have done what we can to assist them. From here on, it will be up to the Iraqis to develop their country and get on with self governing.

This week when you sit down with your family for Thanksgiving Day Dinner, remember that there are many still out there on duty, in many other locations, doing what is needed to ensure our freedoms. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

US soldiers mark last Thanksgiving in Iraq
By W.G. Dunlop (AFP) – 11/21/11
— US soldiers gathered for an early Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday due to an impending switch to field rations at a base near Baghdad, saying they are glad they will soon be going home.

The official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States is later this week, but the last "dining facility," or DFAC, at the sprawling Victory Base Complex (VBC) on Baghdad's outskirts closed on Sunday, as US forces prepare to depart.

Soldiers and contractors, about 6,600 of whom are still at VBC, dined at tables decorated with colourful paper turkeys and "Happy Thanksgiving" signs hanging overhead.

"We're going to do the Thanksgiving meal here today instead of on Thursday, because we're closing out," said 38-year-old Staff Sergeant Christopher Quimbly, the DFAC manager.

"Today on the menu, we have crab legs, turkey, ham, dressing, yams, green beans, rolls, corn bread, mashed potatoes, (and) a variety of deserts," he said.

"Over 2,000 pounds (almost 900 kilograms) of turkey, over 2,000 pounds of ham" and "probably about 3,000 pounds of mashed potatoes" are being served, he said.

But starting with dinner on Sunday, soldiers will have to make do with bagged field rations, Quimbly said.

"I'm thankful for everything here, I'm thankful every day. ... This means a lot. I've started off over here, seen this DFAC stood up, and I'm over here when it's closing down," he said.

Quimbly, who is married and has two sons and three daughters, said he is "definitely looking forward to getting home."

He arrived for this tour, his fifth, in May 2011.

"I think it's a good morale boost for everyone," Specialist Shawna McNeil, a 23-year-old on her first tour of duty in Iraq, said of the meal.

"It's good for us because we know that time's dwindling down, it's not much longer, it's the last meal -- we're at the home stretch, ready to go home.

"I think it's good for everyone to be together and have a good meal. I know a lot of people probably miss their families, so just a little something helps out," she added.

"Seeing that this is the last (cooked) meal for the soldiers here ... it's a good thing, 'cause we know we're moving out," said 45-year-old Sergeant James Scott, who is on his second Iraq deployment.

"It's been a really good experience, and they've done a really good job," he said of the meal.

"It's the beginning of closing it down, and having a new year back home," he said, adding: "I'm ready to head back to Kentucky -- just get back and relax, and be with the family."

President Barack Obama announced on October 21 that US forces would leave by the end of this year, bringing to a close an almost nine-year war.

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