Story by David Vergun, Army News Service
Editor’s Note: The following Army journalists contributed to this article: Sgt. Adam Keith, U.S. Army Central; Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Public Affairs; Staff Sgt. Carlos R. Davis, 210th Fires Brigade Public Affairs; Tazanyia Mouton,U.S. Army Garrison Natick; 1st Lt. Travis Womack, Fort Sill Public Affairs; Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks, The Old Guard Public Affairs; and Sgt. Javier S. Amador, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a “day of Thanksgiving.” Since that time, soldiers and their families have been celebrating the holiday.
This year, soldiers are making plans to be with families and friends while those stationed overseas are calling, writing or using social media to contact loved ones back home.
Here’s a look at what soldiers and their families the world over are doing in preparation for the holiday:
Commissaries Gear Up
Commissary shoppers worldwide are gobbling up Thanksgiving food items as well.
Every year the Defense Commissary Agency prepares for the rush of shoppers looking for Thanksgiving meal staples, according to Thomas Owens, director of DeCA’s Washington, D.C. office.
“As a large-volume operation, it comes as no surprise how much shoppers buy. A quick look at 14 items ranging from turkeys to bags of flour shows commissaries last year sold over 4.6 million items for a total of nearly $12 million in sales the week before Thanksgiving. And they are ready to do about the same this year,” he said.
Owens provided a breakdown of items sold last year, expecting it to be pretty similar this year. DeCA figures are for all services combined, not broken down by service: 426,000 turkeys, 352,000 dinner rolls, 388,000 pies, 42,000 hams, 520,000 cream cheese block or spreads, 208,000 bags of sugar, 481,000 cans of evaporated milk, 431,000 bread stuffing packages, 159,000 aluminum foil rolls, 600,000 gravy packages — either cans, jars or dry mixes, 130,000 onions, 405,000 cans of green beans, 140,000 bags of flour and 364,000 cans of cranberry sauce.
While the Thanksgiving meals are important, the holiday, as its name implies, is also about “thanks” and “giving.” As such, soldiers everywhere are participating in community activities and doing things to help the needy.
This month, soldiers stationed in Kuwait came together for a Thanksgiving meal with Kuwaiti school children in their early teens.
Staff Sgt. Jennifer C. Manaday, a civil affairs team sergeant assigned to 352nd Civil Affairs Command attached to U.S. Army Central, said she was happy to have had the opportunity to attend the celebration and learn more about the Kuwaitis while sharing some of her own Thanksgiving experiences.
Meanwhile on the other side of Asia in Korea, Americans stationed there this month were learning how to make kimchi, the main Korean dish, from area citizens at the Annual Kimchi Charity Event in Dongducheon, South Korea.
Although the traditional Korean Thanksgiving Day, called Chuseok, is celebrated every September 19, soldiers had the opportunity to partake of Thanksgiving food Nov. 15, that was different from the traditional turkey meal.
In Grafenwoehr, Germany, the Army Chaplains Office will donate $24,000 worth of commissary gift cards to soldiers and families in need at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria.
The criteria for who makes it onto the list varies from family to family. Those with Army Emergency Relief loans, debt, a new baby, “or even single income families with four kids who are just struggling,” are eligible for the program, explained Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Barnard, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria.
First sergeants disburse the cards to their soldiers with little fanfare.
“A lot of folks aren’t willing to ask for help even though they need it, so we try to do it discretely,” said Barnard.
“They’re going through trying times,” said 1st Sgt. Darrell Vargas, Warrior Transition Battalion-Europe.
The commissary gift cards will help make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable for the soldiers, he said.
“They will get to celebrate Thanksgiving together and take a little less out of their pockets,” he said. “They’re focusing their vouchers on food so they can buy gifts for the holidays.”
Not far away in Gottschied Elementary School in Germany, soldiers were spending their off-duty time helping German students practice their English.
Tradition has it that the first Thanksgiving meal was attended in 1621 by the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Not too far from Plymouth is Natick, Mass., where soldiers and Army civilians this month are donating hundreds of pounds of winter clothing that will go to homeless veterans in the New England area.
Sarah Ross, the Human Research Volunteer program coordinator, and Darren Bean, an equipment specialist with Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, wanted to do anything they could to help.
“We just wanted to give back,” said Bean. “There are so many employees here, so many veterans on post, as well.”
Bean added that there are more than 300 veterans on the installation and said that he and Ross thought to put a clothing drive together to help where some are hit the hardest.
“This is supposed to be one of the worst winters, so we decided it was a good idea,” said Bean.
Ross and Bean said the drive focused particularly on winter items such as heavy coats, jackets, gloves and boots, but added that they also received other items, like hygiene products.
Family members and friends of the 578th Forward Support Company at Fort Sill, Okla., are staying connected and involved with a physical fitness program that bridges the divide that keeps them apart from their deployed soldiers over Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season.
The idea of “Walk for 578th” was the brainchild of Ashley Barre, fiancee of Sgt. Sean Bourgasser. Barre and other family readiness group members decided that since deployed soldiers do some form of physical fitness training every day, they could feel more connected to their far-away loved ones by doing the same.
To close the gap between deployed soldiers and their family members at home, the Family Readiness Group, or FRG, decided to walk nearly 8,000 miles — the distance that separates Lawton from the United Arab Emirates. All miles logged by loved ones through physical exercise is counted in the hopes of reaching the magic number before their soldiers come home in early 2014. To do this, the FRG created a walk Facebook page in which spouses, parents, friends or other family members of the deployed soldiers can join by “liking” the page to begin logging miles.
“Originally, the idea was just for the families, but now the soldiers have started getting involved,” said Vanessa Norman, 578th FRG leader. “We’re running, biking, walking and jogging toward them; and they are running, jogging and walking toward us.”
The event began Aug. 31, and what once seemed like a momentous challenge, now appears to be within just a few more steps. As of Oct. 25, the group had completed nearly 5,000 miles, leaving only slightly more than 3,000 miles to go.
To aid them in reaching their goal, the 578th FRG has a final “hoorah” walk scheduled for December.
Eighty soldiers from 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), carried more than 1,300 pounds of non-perishable food and supplies from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., to the Father McKenna Center in Washington, D.C., during a road march, Nov. 14, to help those in homeless shelters.
Spc. Jacob Caughey said it was easy to stay motivated throughout the five-mile march.
“All I could think about was how all the food we were carrying was going to help someone,” he said. “I felt great knowing that we were doing this public service.”
Twelve of the 80 soldiers also stayed behind to help serve during the morning meal.
A lot of soldiers in New York will be away from family and friends this Thanksgiving.
With the last flight carrying the final contingent of the nearly 2,000 soldiers lifting off from the runway at Fort Drum’s Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield this month, the final deployment of the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, was officially under way.
The brigade will be assigned to Regional Command-East, an area of Afghanistan that shares a border with Pakistan. Larger than the state of Virginia, RC-East includes the provinces of Bamyan, Ghazni, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Paktiya, Panjshayr, Parwan and Wardak.
Once there, soldiers will begin their mission as a security force and advising brigade, primarily focused on providing support and assistance to Afghan forces. So in a way, the soldiers will be giving their time and energy to help the Afghans have a better way of life.
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