By Nick Schede
This Thanksgiving was special for my family and me. It had been four years since we sat at the dinner table together and shared a Thanksgiving meal.
In the intervening years, I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my other family, my comrades in the U.S. Army. For three years, while I was stationed on a base in Colorado, Thanksgiving usually consisted of a BBQ at my place, which would turn into a party because my friends’ idea of contributing a side dish would be to bring a case of beer.
The day was shared with friends from the platoon, who also stayed on base, saving up leave days to go home for Christmas. During those army Thanksgivings, Styrofoam containers littered the house, filled with leftover food from the base cafeteria where, true to Army tradition, holiday meals were served by the high command. Some of the guys would make a point of going to the cafeteria to have their meals served by high command, just so they could ask for something extra, and piss off the brass.
Then, during my last year in the Army, I remember standing in formation on Thanksgiving Day, soaked through my army fatigues because of the heat. I was stationed in Kuwait and it was 120 degrees. My company commander gave us the day off, and told us that it would be a Thanksgiving that we would never forget. He was right.
There isn’t that much to do when you’re deployed in the Middle East. You can go to the gym. But I do that everyday anyway, so I decided to take the day off. I could Skype my family but they were still asleep in Weschester, N.Y. Maybe mom would be up preparing the feast, but I was pretty sure she would be busy that day. So as the day dragged on, and the heat and sandstorm kept most of us inside, we looked for anything to occupy the time. Some played board games, others watched movies, some went to the gym.
Soon we all gathered for dinner, excited about the food because it was something new off the menu. Knowing that our first sergeant and company commander would be serving us our Thanksgiving dinner brought a small smile to all.
As we sat and ate all the essentials of what makes a Thanksgiving dinner, we went around the table and shared some of our family traditions with each other. Being from different states, and even countries outside the U.S., our stories made that dinner special. One guy asked: “Where’s the rice and beans? And salsa!” a side dish that was always at his dinner table in Arizona. Another soldier told us of the feast he celebrated in Georgia, one that had its roots in his family’s Kenyan culture. Instead of turkey, his family would prepare a goat with side dishes. That memory made him miss home, and he lost his appetite for the instant mashed potatoes.
But for a brief moment, hearing those stories brought us peace of mind. I realized that my comrades, that day, thousands of miles from home, will always be in my thoughts.
Sitting at the dinner table in New York this November, I shared my memories of those far-away Army Thanksgivings. In the telling, the stories brought together my two families.