As U.S. troops spend their 11th Thanksgiving in a war-torn land, it looks like a variety of factors will keep them there for many more years. NBC's Jim Maceda reports from Kabul.
KABUL -- There’s something unforgiving about Thanksgiving when you’re an American soldier serving in a place like Afghanistan. You think about the day for months in advance, but when it finally comes, the fun lasts the length of a good meal... and then you’re back on mission, like it never happened.
The meal that was served to several thousand coalition forces, including about 1,000 U.S. troops, who live and work at a base called ‘Tent City’, part of the Kabul military airport, was special by any standards – roast turkey and stuffing, spare ribs, pot roast, collard greens, roast potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and honey roasted ham, all topped off with apple and pecan pies. But as good as it was, it wasn’t home. And home was sorely missed.
"Nothing beats Mom’s cooking!’’ said Navy Capt. John Archer as he served to his younger seamen – an old military tradition. "It’s part of giving back, serving those who serve," he said.
I met Sgt. First Class Class Florinda Torres on the line between the pot roast and corn on the cob. "I’ve been thinking about this day since the beginning of the month, wishing it would happen," she told me, smiling. "And now?" I asked. “And now I’m just really missing my brothers in Texas. They’d be watching football and I’d be watching with them."
As she spoke, a white-clad presence darted from food tray to food tray, all the time sporting a Cheshire cat smile. It was the Command Sgt. Major, the de facto manager and maitre d’ of the event. "Sure I miss my real family back home – but this is my other family,’’ he said as he put his arms around two of this servers and smiled that smile.
"Did you look forward to this Thanksgiving?" I asked Col. Kenneth Soto. "Sure. But I really look forward to the New Year, cause it’s when I’ll be back home.’’ Would this be his last Thanksgiving in Afghanistan? "It could well be!" he said with a smile.
'We took it from the Americans'
At this multi-national ISAF base you couldn’t help noticing that most of the tables in the Tent City cafeteria were filled with non-American soldiers – from Albanians to New Zealanders – all enjoying the culinary fare and not particularly missing their families because the day didn’t trigger those kinds of memories. "It’s not a holiday in Norway," said one soldier wolfing down a turkey leg, "but this is a chance to enjoy a good meal!’’
NBC's Jim Maceda reports from Kabul, where U.S. service members are enjoying some downtime to dig into a traditional Thanksgiving lunch.
"In Finland we have Thanksgiving," said the only Finn on the base, a police trainer.
"Come on!" I yelled in disbelief.
"Yes, it’s about 5 years old. We took it from the Americans. I love the turkey and cranberry sauce!"
But not many service members, American or otherwise, wanted to guess how many more Thanksgivings would be marked in Afghanistan before the war was over.
"I’m just trying to enjoy this one," said Air Force Major Stephen Hunt, with just a dollop of scorn for the question.
“I hope we get to wrap things up and go home,’’ admitted Master Sgt. Michael Bruther from Langley, Va. "But we’ll stay and carry on if the situation calls for it.’’
"I can’t really say," Archer said, adding, "but I sense a shift on the ground, and it’s now up to the Afghans to take charge.’’
Then, he turned away.
“How ‘bout some turkey?" he offered the next soldier in line.