Thanksgiving in Afghanistan
My last Thanksgiving wasn't very eventful really, a day off from combat operations. My company, C company, was living on a combat out post in [southern] Afghanistan [near] my battalion's ... forward operating base.... The combat out post I was on [was renamed] COP Rath in honor of a sergeant from our company who died in January from a suicide bomber who attacked his platoon while on a dismounted patrol in the bazaar.
For Thanksgiving we had a sort of company regimental day of sports and such, i.e., soccer and football tournaments between the platoons and individual competitions like bench press and so on. And we also had a pretty big dinner very unlike the usual rations that we were used to. The menu was pretty traditional, ham, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin and pecan pie and sparkling white wine. The officers and high ranking non-commissioned officers served, as is the tradition. ...
[The] two or three army cooks on our COP, with help from two local nationals we employed as permanent KP, decorated the two tents with very much home-made wooden benchs and wooden riser floors. There was ample food and drinks, non-alcoholic as alcohol is not allowed while in theatre, and I can't remember if we had football on or not as usually the only TV only seemed to get AFN [armed forces network].
It was difficult and I wanted nothing more than to be back home. I think that there was a lot to be grateful for but at the same time we never knew if something would happen, which it did. My platoon actually got to COP Rath before any of the others, as our platoon was detailed to serve as a sort of torch party [advance party]. As it turned out the Afghan army and the independent local national security force that worked there loved to play soccer. It was a nice thing to have something in common in a far off hostile land where everything was like nothing that I had ever experienced. A team leader from my squad and I started kicking the ball around with some of the ANA [Afghan National Army], the Afghan national police and the security guys and it would actually become something that the whole platoon would do. We would have U.S. vs. Afghan soccer games every day, something that helped me relax and laugh. It took a lot of stress off as soccer has always been something that I've been involved in, be it playing competitively, for fun or even a little coaching.
As my platoon played every day, we became very good both individually and as a team. We were by far the favorites for the company regimental day soccer round robin, but as we were securing what was at the time a 3-nil thrashing of 3rd platoon, suiting up for the next game, our platoon got called out to check out an IED that had been found in one of the villages in our company's area of operation. It was my platoon's turn as quick reaction force so we raced from the landing zone, which also served as our soccer field, to the barracks to change and race to the trucks to get out as soon as possible. The soccer tournament was subsequently canceled, and finished without us in a U.S. versus Afghanistan match. When we got back I relaxed the best I could considering I was in Afghanistan and not in Bethel celebrating with my family as is our tradition and ate a large dinner.
All in all I guess that my time in Afghanistan really did give me perspective and a lot of things to be grateful for. If anything, its very difficult to really appreciate what you have until you don't have it, so a year over there really helps me appreciate all the wonderful things that I, my family and friends are so lucky to have. Most of all I had a very supportive and understanding girlfriend (now my wife), family and friends who were there for me and gave me something to come home to.