Deployed U.S. troops take time to observe Thanksgiving
Across the nation today, families will sit down and enjoy a holiday meal.
Some will share what they are thankful for.
Many members of the military will do the same. But for tens of thousands of them, including some from the Northland, those meals will come in foreign lands as they support the nation's interests around the globe.
They include troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Kuwait and parts of Africa: about 275,000 American service members who are deployed around the globe, in more than 100 countries and on every continent.
Regardless of where those troops are, officials said it's important that they are given the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The holiday has a long tradition of being celebrated by U.S. troops amid some of the most dangerous and austere environments in the world.
"Without a doubt, it's absolutely critical," said Lt. Col. Adam Frederick, commander of the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment.
Frederick is leading 350 paratroopers from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade amid an ongoing deployment to South Korea.
Speaking to the Fayetteville Observer by phone the day before Thanksgiving, he said the holiday was important for all troops. But especially for those away from their families and homes.
"All too often we can get so myopic on what worries us and what causes us anxiety," Frederick said. That makes focusing on what you're thankful for all the more important.
"We should do it every day . but to take a moment and truly pause and reflect as a nation, as an organization, on the different aspects of what we have to be thankful for - it's healthy for the soul," he said.
"We can get really busy," Frederick added of deployed life. "Every now and then, you've got to take a breath and reflect."
The most visible aspect of the holidays is the traditional meal.
Turkey, dressing and "all the fixin's" will adorn tables at home and abroad.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Duff, theater food service advisor for Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, said deployed troops in the battle against the Islamic State will have all the traditional holiday foods at the ready.
That includes special items not usually available in the military's Middle East dining facilities, such as egg nog, baked ham, pecan and sweet potato pies, and whole turkeys.
The theater's dining facilities will prepare more than 57,000 pounds of turkey, 11,000 pounds of ham, 20,000 pounds of shrimp and 1,400 pounds of steamship round, among other foods.
Duff - who when not deployed is the command food service adviser for the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, N.C. - said dining halls will be decorated for the holidays, just as they are back home. And senior leaders will be on hand to serve the meals to the junior troops.
The focus on food for the holiday puts added attention on military dining facilities, said Staff Sgt. Isabel M. Martell, a soldier with the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command assigned to Fort Bragg's 1st Theater Sustainment Command, who manages a dining hall at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
Martell said cooks will go out of their way to ensure the meal is special. That means special recipes and fresh ingredients that wouldn't normally be available.
"It's very special," she said. "We go the whole nine yards."
Martell's menu for Thursday included fresh candied yams, turkey, ham and dressing.
"There will be a lot of love in our bellies," she said.
Martell said everyone recognizes the importance of the holiday.
"A lot of us are here without family," she said. "We're all missing our families."
Frederick, who is leading the 82nd Airborne Division troops in South Korea, said the holiday observances will extend beyond the dinner table.
On Wednesday, the unit came together for its annual "Toilet Bowl" - a flag football game between senior soldiers and junior troops.
Some soldiers also took time to volunteer off the installation.
The 1st Cavalry troopers are in a unique position.
They are not in as austere of an environment as some of their colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers are able to leave Camp Humphreys and have many of the conveniences of garrison life.
But unlike other units that are permanently based in South Korea, members of the squadron are away from their homes and families.
As the last rotation of OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters serving the joint U.S.-Korea force on the peninsula, they are also extremely busy, Frederick said.
"It's tough because it's the holidays and you're away from your family," he said. "But I could not be more proud."
He's also thankful for the support the squadron receives from its family and friends back in the U.S.
"I am absolutely thankful for everything that they do back at home that allows us to do what we're doing here," Frederick said.