AN Security

A Thanksgiving Story: Iraq

In Fallen Heroes Quilts Iraq, Thanksgiving in Iraq, Uncategorized on November 26, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I realize that Thanksgiving Day holiday is not supposed to be about the food, but hear me out on this one. We do celebrate closeness, family, God, prosperity stemming from hard work and love. For those who are far away from home this holiday represents what waits for them back home, making new friendships and learning to face adversity. The meals are the big sell and yes, it is a major dog and pony show. A lot goes on behind the scenes to make these special meals perhaps not magical but closer to the experience at home – minus family and friends. I must admit but the preparation of food for any gathering is always the driving force. Food brings people together to celebrate abundance but it’s not always monetary wealth that people celebrate. If you looked around the cities surrounding Victory Base there are people living day to day, looking for jobs, hoping for a better life. In spite of our current political problems we are a blessed nation in many ways and this celebration is a lovely reminder of our heritage. We didn’t get here by being lazy or selfish rather many generations were extremely industrious.

The many times I complained that some people in Iraq I observed acted like the meal in front of them could be their last, that is exactly how they are wired. They’ve gone through food shortages, tyrannical rule or religious persecution – just about the things Americans have not experienced – and try to put myself in their shoes.

What if I couldn’t work and had to depend on others? Living alone who will look after me? Many questions come up this time of year and if personally I don’t thank the All-Mighty for what I have which I take for granted, at least I’ve made an effort I just wanted to share some of the wonderful moments experienced through these traditional rituals, even in a war zone. This is a brief tribute to those who fight and those who look after them; but mainly the many ways that people celebrate. The problem with these big holidays is that everyone works harder before and during the day than the rest of the year. Still, there’s always room for some funny moments.

The week began with a positive note as the new quilts arrived at the Stables. This place is like those old westerns – hardly a soul and tumbleweeds are a tumbling. Maybe not the kind we have at home but some are actually pretty and peppered the rather dull landscape with a splash of color.  Striker or what’s left of it is nothing like what I described in my post on NoVacancy blog “The Story of the Quilt” Frankly, watching troops depart theatre is both joy and sadness. They are our reason to be here; to take care of them so as they go it brings home the reality that we are indeed in a final transition. It is eerie to enter the old Stables building and see no one sitting at the receiving desk or passengers lounging on the couches or wrapped in one of the blankets provided. There is only a large coffee maker left there and boxes of MREs have been shipped over to East of the VBC where the transportation yard was relocated. All that is left is the building and offices. And the quilts.

The new and outgoing Mayor Cells were scheduled to open the first shipment of quilts and did so about 30 minutes before everyone else showed up. When we got there Natali was in the process of unpacking them and so was Gunny – and the rest of the staff – who were searching for a nice spot to display them on. Of course she runs a tight ship and things have to look good so she said hang them anywhere you want now; it’s her job to redo the quilts once the audience is gone. Hammer in hand I was invited to hang a Navy-themed quilt , one of three which earn special mention here – so you know I’m biased – but you may view the rest of the collection here . I will update the quilt arrivals later on.

Now on to Thanksgiving!

I got the knock on my door around 2130 hours after I had retired for the day. My colleagues took a couple steps back and away from my door perhaps expecting me to lash out. I told them sorry, there’s no Halloween candy left. They smiled. Boss says to call him. I cursed. They chuckled. I cursed some more. Why? As I put on shoes the boys chuckled some more and remarked; “See, I told you she’d come back to the office!”

Not only would be facilitate a VIP visit to our dining halls on turkey day once, we would do it twice (rehearsal and performance) to make damn sure nothing goes wrong. And one thing Mag, there can’t be any hiccups.

I was like, um, haven’t even had that holiday meal yet. The corporate bosses wanted to see how the troops would be fed so it was a show nested inside of another show. The stuff that goes on behind the scenes as the great feasts are being prepared for the troops sometimes turn out to be good experiences. Still, I went back to my quarters, stressing over the next day’s events.

I was having several eye-twitching moments…that vein on my forehead protruding dangerously.

Our meals, for camps far removed from the main Victory Base I have to say are the best. There was word of an open pit roast pig soiree held at the transportation yard but too far a drive. Food stories start to flow in. Smaller camps hold their own dinners; mostly the military leadership prepares the feast for their troops. These affairs are not held in large and crowded dining halls but in smaller camps away from the flag pole. Civilian camps do the same and sometimes combine them. Then there are the rounds; people go from dinner to dinner and sample different foods and mingle with other people. Work continues though at some point everyone finds a quiet spot and enjoys these treats. The farther away from the flagpole we are the better, everyone agrees with that. They’re also out of the way from media coverage – though the last two times we had a big traffic jam it was because of the VP’s visit. This time no one came out to visit. Maybe they’ll clog up traffic for the Christmas holiday. I say ‘away’ from coverage not because good stories are not desirable for publication but because recent history showed that VIPs create more trouble, slow down the process and many people frankly end up not getting a decent meal because of enhanced security.

Everyone is doing something, cooking or donating food for a holiday meal. Sometimes most people make their rounds and collect food along the way. By the end of the day there are too many sources of good chow and not enough stomachs to handle it. Cows have it all don’t they?

The dining facilities at one special forces camp and Sather Air Base left us very impressed. These are probably the best meals and decorations I’ve seen in a long time. One of the soldiers came up to our group asking if we had taken pictures of the place and we said yes. He was beaming with enthusiasm at the thought of the big holiday dinner and described how the staff always went above and beyond to make the experience wonderful. This was no exception. The staff had to be coaxed into a  – perhaps their only break of the day – as they cleaned up the place. (This visit was done at breakfast time)

I made a brief stop to talk with the Mayor early in the day between breaks from an already hectic morning to see how he was doing. This is a let your hair down moment for the boss to cook for his troops and civilians. These units will be home for Christmas so this last holiday had to go without a hitch. Many got a decent chuckle today. The outgoing Mayor of Striker (now Cropper) invited everyone to a home-cooked holiday meal at the old medical building – we have a surplus of empty structures since our DFAC was closed – and word got out that he’d be doing the cooking. The biggest attraction was the use of a stove purchased by Saddam for his mother to cook the meal on which was a rare treat.   The Colonel said someone at general quarters didn’t want the old stove around and he exchanged the thing for a newer model. I wouldn’t mind owning one myself. We wondered how much it cost Hussein to ship it from Italy.

I promised to stop by during the evening meal. I didn’t know if I’d make it for the meal itself or to take pictures – as I always do – but wanted to see if that turkey he was planning on frying would turn out alright. I don’t recall ever having fried turkey before. That and our heavy equipment and warehouse people had put on a feast back on camp. Now that was a meal sure to be excellent (due to previous experience) and with any luck we would be able to stop by and collect some vittles.  Which happened much later in the afternoon.

Turkey stuffed with jambalaya was new to me but some of the best I’ve had. Fresh cucumbers and radishes from the Iraqi market were a bit hit with some of us (produce often arrives from Kuwait frozen) and baked beans spicy enough to make hair grow. Friendly chatter then back to work.

Off to the air base. The grand entrance at the air base well worth the wait even for people who don’t like big crowds but the decorations alone made up for the traffic jams. There was food everywhere. The staff barely had time to stop and chat, running the first round of the lunch hour with military precision. There were a lot of smiles. Mind you, my colleague and I went over there to take pictures and get some salad…yeah I know that’s bullshit but I actually did get salad and other things. The food was fantastic but we got some snacks always keeping in mind our private meal invite back ‘home.’ Facing too many options and getting hungry, we made out with samples then vowed to return for dessert during the evening meal. Sweet potato pie dreams…

Well it’s the end of the day per se and everything went well today even if it looked like we would crash and burn (no chance). I waited impatiently for the shift to end so I can have some private time with a slice of sweet potato pie and a cup of tea. I took a walk down the street to see how the Mayor’s party was going. Tired is not the word to describe my condition but it was a good day. Nothing says ahh like success. The phone stopped ringing and emails stopped popping in my inbox. Boss is very very happy. I’m very very tired. The protruding vein on my forehead was receding slowly as night fell.

The meal back at the Mayor’s was a success for the exception of the deep fryer (the Colonel had planned on frying a turkey as well) the deputy said as she washed dishes in the back of the kitchen. So much for that fried turkey and so much for my appetite. There was a good turnout. I bid my goodbyes and headed out. The lady at the air base said their sea food chicken gumbo was better than ever. I said sure, they serve it once a week, it’s good.  She insisted that I have some. So gumbo would be my nighttime meal…and pie. Perhaps her enthusiasm over this weekly fare was fueled by the occasion but I figured why not?  Exhausted from a long day doing escorts and taking care of other duties colleague and I drove back to base again.  

This is how some of us spent our holiday. Happy Thanksgiving.

And yes, the gumbo was better than ever.

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your Thanksgiving day! The photos are outstanding and the commentary’s even better. Thank you for all you do! Take care! Be safe!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Janice Semmel, Janice Semmel and Ken Gardner, M E Leclerc. M E Leclerc said: New blog post on The Anvil "A Thanksgiving Story: Iraq" Hope you enjoy the pictures! […]

  3. Janice, thank you for your comment and my apologies for not responding for so long.

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