Thanksgiving in Iraq: Fort Wainwright soldiers talk about the ups and downs

FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) As families gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving, 2,400 Fort Wainwright soldiers deployed to Iraq, were not able to be home for the holiday.

Soldiers in line getting food for their Thanksgiving meal in Iraq. (Major Charlie Dietz)

Major Charlie Dietz, public affairs officer with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, interviewed a few soldiers about their Thanksgiving celebration in Iraq.

Many of the soldiers started their day with some sports. “Instead of playing football, since we don’t have any grass out here, we played some dodgeball on the cement, and had some good competition between our noncommissioned officers and our officers,” said Captain Wes Wood.

After dodgeball, soldiers got together to enjoy their Thanksgiving meal.
“I had a great lunch at the dining facility, had some roast beef with all the toppings and everything... then we went back and got some turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, everything you could ask for dinner,” said Specialist Dale Smith.

“This Thanksgiving was different because I was able to spend time with other people, get to know other people, and see what their beliefs are with Thanksgiving, and talk about their traditions, versus what’s going on right now,” said Staff Sergeant Cheryl Mae San Nicolas.

When it comes to the food on Thanksgiving, although the soldiers were happy with it overall, each soldier had something they missed from their Thanksgiving traditions.

“What I miss about the United States is that I can get my traditional ingredients to make our traditional way of celebrating Thanksgiving with my family,” said San Nicolas.

“Normally on Thanksgiving, I’m a big fan of ham; specifically my wife’s ham... here, less ham more turkey. So I loaded up on some turkey and lots of stuffing,” said Wood.

“The only thing I was missing was a little fried turkey, I’m a big fan of some fried turkey, but everything else... all your pecan pie, dressing, turkey... all that still was there. Overall, I cannot complain at all,” said Command Sergeant Major Antonio Brown, 70th Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Smith says even though it is not his first Thanksgiving away from family, it is his first Thanksgiving while deployed. “It’s much different being away from family during Thanksgiving. You get to call everyone, FaceTime, see all their faces... but it’s just not the same not being with them,” said Smith.

Wood said his wife got together with other deployed families, their spouses and their kids, and “just spent it together as a family back home.”

Although the soldiers wished they could be back home with family, they said the morale was good on Thanksgiving.

“A lot of them were smiling, I guess just ready to get in there and to actually eat what they were kind of missing back home, missing that home cooking, that camaraderie, the family. So I think a lot of them were enjoying it,” said Brown.

These solders from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, are deployed to Iraq and the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, a mission to advise and assist the Iraqi military to defeat ISIS and increase regional stability.

In Syria, soldiers are maintaining security and protecting critical infrastructure.

Soldiers were asked how the mission is going, now that they are a third of the way through the deployment. “The mission’s going great, everyday just getting in to the office, working away, everything’s going well,” said Smith.

“The mission here is really important to me because six years ago as a young Lieutenant, seeing the things that were going on here in Iraq, and in Syria, and then being able to be a part of what now is the success of the coalition... getting to see the tides turn is really encouraging and really great to be a part of,” said Wood.

“I think everything is going pretty good, we’re assisting the government and trying to get them to establish systems in place to help them far in to the future. So overall I think we’re doing pretty well,” said Brown.

About three months in, Brown says this is when it starts to set in for soldiers, “missing home, being away from home, but they’re overall I still think morale is pretty high. No issues that I’m aware of,” said Brown.

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