With so many of our troops stationed abroad and Thanksgiving just around the corner, it is easy to get down. Missing family, friends and the routine of the holiday can be depressing – particularly for those away for the first time. There is good news, however. Keeping the tradition of Thanksgiving alive and well while overseas may seem a daunting task but in all honesty it is easier than you might think. As a nineteen year old kid stationed half a world away from home I got my first introduction to the best way to keep the tradition alive. Simply put, the best way to do so is to celebrate and enjoy it without worrying about making it just like back home.
At the time Thanksgiving rolled around I had been at my duty station a month at best. I was stuck in the dorms knowing few people, had no vehicle, and absolutely no plans aside from working a twelve hour shift that ended the morning of the usually festive day. I supposed my Thanksgiving experience would be lunch at the dining hall assuming I woke up for it. Instead, however I was given an option. My duty officer invited me to his house for the day, after I went to the dorms and got a little sleep that is. Around 1:30 that afternoon he stopped by to pick me up and took a second to walk through the dorms looking for people that were for one reason or another alone. He rounded us up and we were off to his house.
The Captain and his wife opened their home to us and another of the officers from work along with his wife were waiting to greet us all when we arrived as well. Drinks were available, football games that had been taped were being shown on the television, and if you didn’t know better it felt like home. We even argued a little bit but thankfully only over the ref’s calling the game. Once inside the house we were reminded this was a particular day we checked our pay grades at the door. We were encouraged to relax, and most of all take time to know one another in a manner we usually wouldn’t.
Food began rolling out and it wasn’t quite what most of us expected. First the seafood and noodle dishes were served which made sense as we were in Asia and the Captain’s wife was Chinese. We were treated to a sampling of dishes from her home country and the old saying about how Chinese food is great but a half hour later you’re hungry was thankfully true, because the next course was prepared by the Commanders wife who was from an Italian background. The antipasto and escarole soup came out first followed by a selection of a vegetarian lasagna and another that was so huge and heavy with the three cheeses and seemingly pounds of beef you’d swear the table actually groaned trying to stay upright under it’s weight. We all dug in and thought this was about as good as it gets.
The truth is it got better. The Commander was from Texas and as a Texan he loved his deep fried turkey. We were so busy eating and yelling at the football game on television we never noticed he was outside most of the time tending the bird. Usually it would be hard to make room for more food and you wouldn’t try getting another bite down after ingesting so much already but we all tried anyway when “Tex Turkey” as he called it made his grand arrival. All the trimmings surrounded him down to the cranberry sauce that was served so it didn’t have the tell tale signs it was just out of the can. By then belts had been loosened and buttons popped so there was no excuse to not dive right in. As we all sat around the table we took turns talking of our family back home and being thankful for our family there, because we were a family. A family of different races, ages, religious denominations, and feelings on the Dallas Cowboys, but we had the unity all families should.
The important thing I learned is that no matter where you are or what meal you put on the table the Thanksgiving tradition lives so long as you gather people together and share a bond, even if for that day alone. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what we have and the people we care about. So long as we surround ourselves with others whether we be at home in the U.S., a tiny Pacific Island, a Middle East desert, or an air base in Germany, then Thanksgiving is alive and well in our hearts.