News: Thanksgiving in Regional Command-South features special guests, holiday standards
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Special holiday guests– including the under secretary of the Army, the vice chief of staff of the Army, and the International Security Forces commander – and a busy day of events and activities combined to create a memorable Thanksgiving for thousands of Regional Command-South troops in southern Afghanistan on Nov. 22.
Visiting with Wounded Warriors and troops within the region were Joseph Westphal, the under secretary of the Army, and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the vice chief of staff of the Army. Westphal and Austin had a full day that included meetings with Wounded Warriors at the KAF Warrior Recovery Center and a trip throughout the province with stops at smaller bases and posts at Zangabad, Degobad, Siah Choy, Sanjeray and Pasab.
Austin bestowed awards and administered the oath of reenlistment to soldiers at several of the locations. Austin said soldiers in Afghanistan for Thanksgiving would remember the holiday well, not because senior leaders were there, but because they were in a combat zone making a difference.
ISAF commander Gen. John Allen flew from Kabul and was at KAF for about two hours and also visited Wounded Warriors at the airfield’s Role 3 hospital and ate a Thanksgiving lunch with troops at the Independence Dining Facility.
One KAF airman, Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja, a flight medic with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, of Bridgeport Texas, received a very special call on Thanksgiving. While at work, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, called Pantoja to thank him for his service and express how difficult it must be for him to be separated from his family during the holidays.
Pantoja was selected to receive the call as a result of his actions during a medical evacuation mission where he saved nine service members who received severe injuries from an improvised explosive device blast.
Distinguished visitors began arriving earlier in the week on KAF to mark the holiday with both their military and civilian employees. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre, the transatlantic division commanding general, arrived on the airbase with transatlantic division Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Ward on Tuesday to spend Thanksgiving with the USACE personnel assigned to Afghanistan Engineer District-South.
“You will not be spending Thanksgiving with family and loved ones; you are far from home, standing watch for freedom. I want you to know that the nation is grateful for your service and for your sacrifice,” Eyre said. “Each of you is in our hearts and our prayers as we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.”
In Zabul province, hundreds of residents on Forward Operating Base Lagman, including coalition forces and civilians from around the world, enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal served by FOB Lagman officials. The Thanksgiving meal brought joy and warmth to the FOB’s residents despite a cold rain that persisted throughout the day.
First in line to volunteer for the serving duty was Col. David Sheridan, the deputy commanding officer of Zabul province and a commander with the New York National Guard.
“I always enjoy serving holiday meals, whether here or back home,” Sheridan said. “My cousin emailed me to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and he asked what I was going to eat. I told my cousin no matter what I eat, I know that I will have wonderful company.”
Forward Operating Base Spin Boldak hosted a fun run in the morning and a special mid-day luncheon.
Prior to entering to the dining facility for lunch, soldiers were greeted by the K9 and combat stress control team. The teams handed out thank-you letters from communities within the broadcast region for the radio station talk show, “The Bert Show,” that is heard in the Atlanta, Nashville, and Indianapolis markets.
The goal of the letter writing campaign was for every U.S. service person deployed outside the U.S. to receive a letter by Thanksgiving.
The Spin Boldak dining facility was decorated lavishly for the occasion. Banners lined every wall and fall leaves covered every empty spot. Also, fruit- and iced-carved sculptures were on a display table for everyone to see. The menu included both traditional Thanksgiving items including roast turkey, baked ham, and glazed sweet potatoes and non-traditional items such as prime rib and shrimp cocktail.
At Multi National Base Tarin Kot, food was abundant as Thanksgiving was celebrated with an assortment of traditional dishes including deep fried and traditional oven baked turkey with gravy, cranberry, ham, mashed potatoes, candied yams, corn and bread roll. Of course, there was pumpkin and sweet potato pie for desert. After the feast, everyone gathered around the fire to keep warm in the inclement weather.
Thanksgiving events began long before dawn on KAF with the airfield’s annual Turkey Trot hosted by the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Task Force Lobos. Despite crisp temperatures, the race drew more than 700 competitors, according to event director 1st Lt. Tamatane Letuli.
This work, Thanksgiving in Regional Command-South features special guests, holiday standards, by SFC Erick Studenicka, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.