Politics & Policy

Thanksgiving in Iraq

How some Marines spent the holiday.

Home, family, and a grandmother’s culinary expertise are what some Marines in Iraq say they missed Thursday. That said, their Thanksgiving Day was relatively quiet, and will no doubt never be forgotten.

Cpl. Matthew S. Richards, a combat correspondent with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU) in Najaf, tells says the best thing about Thanksgiving in Iraq was the pumpkin pie.

“The day was like most, but I got a little time off in the morning to sleep in, just for the holiday,” says Richards, a native of Mobile, Alabama, tells NRO. “The highlight of my day was most likely the pumpkin pie in the chow hall. Oh yeah, also the secretary of the Navy [Gordon R. England] showed up, and I guess that was interesting.”

Richards says, he “ate dry turkey, grainy mashed potatoes and undercooked green beans, but actually that all tasted fine considering where I am. I could be eating MREs [the plastic pouch of field rations known as “Meal Ready to Eat”], like while in combat in August, right? And aside from lacking a little whipped cream, the pumpkin pie was damn good.”

He adds, “Conversation was usual. The overall mission in Iraq, politics, and the typical re-occurring debates in American society. Trust me, that’s the norm when you have men and women from all walks of life living together for so long.”

Richards describes his chow hall as being “decorated with an evocative, autumn montage of brown and orange with cardboard pilgrims and turkeys sprinkled throughout the place.”

Still, there is no place like home.

“The only difference was a few sporadic memories of Thanksgiving back home,” he says. “It’s the little things that you hardly notice when you’re there that make home the place you can’t wait to get back too. For instance, how your grandmother puts just the right amount of marshmallows on her sweet potato pie, while the chow hall had none. There are hundreds of those seemingly insignificant details for each and every one of us, but that’s what makes us miss home no matter where we’re from.”

Capt. Jeremy Thompson, the 11th MEU’s force-protection officer, agrees.

“I got a cute e-mail from my little girls back home, and that made my day,” Thompson, a native of Bellingham, Washington, says. “That was the highlight of my Thanksgiving, and my day was great. It was the first time that I met the SECNAV [secretary of the Navy] and I felt appreciative that he left his family on Thanksgiving to come spend the day with the Marines.”

Col. Jenny M. Holbert, who served as escort to Secretary England, describes her day as “a most unusual Thanksgiving,” but one which she was “fortunate” to spend with “so many people who have truly volunteered of their lives to help rebuild this country.”

Cpl. Tasha Wyatt, an Enhanced NBC [nuclear, biological, chemical defense] Chief, from Hodgenville, Kentucky began her Thanksgiving Day at 6:30 A.M. to prepare for a morning brief.

“Then I enjoyed a continental breakfast at the chowhall,” she says. “After breakfast, I ran a few errands, then went to afternoon chow. The chowhall was decorated very nicely–the crew here does an awesome job for the holidays. I had sliced ham, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie for lunch.”

Like her fellow Marines at Forward Operating Base Duke, Wyatt attended a briefing by the secretary of the Navy.

“After formation, I went back to my tent for a nap, woke up, worked some crossword

puzzles, cleaned my living space and went to evening chow,” she says. “I walked back to

my work space and checked my e-mail, where I responded to some nice holiday greetings. I walked back to my living space, showered, then took my laundry to the self-service building. I finished at 2330 [11:30 P.M.]. I closed my eyes and went to sleep around mid-night. Gotta love life in Iraq. I really appreciated that everyone kept the holiday spirit, but really, I’m still in Iraq, and it just doesn’t feel like the holidays.”

The high point of Wyatt’s Thanksgiving Day? “Listening to the new ‘Good Charlotte’ CD,” she says.

Like most Marines, Thompson admits he ate too much. He and other Marines and sailors feasted on “prime rib, turkey, cranberries, shrimp cocktail, pumpkin pie, ice cream, eggnog, and sparkling juice,” he says.

At the table, discussions ranged from military matters to politics to what each Marine was thankful for. “Most of us were most thankful for each other,” says Thompson.

Included in those thanks were prayers for fallen Marines.

“I gave thanks for being in the shadow of giants this year,” Maj. Francis P. Piccoli of the 1st MEF, tells NRO, adding he prayed “for those families that won’t enjoy the presence of their loved one for all Thanksgivings hereafter. A call for comfort, to embrace their hearts, a call for memory so they may see their son for always standing tall in a Category Five hurricane.”

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader and paratrooper, W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a freelance journalist and the author of four books, including the Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to American Airborne Forces.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues. He has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and in Lebanon. ...

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