HORIZON CITY, Texas - Thanksgiving is an American tradition where families come together with a feast of turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and other traditional fixings, usually followed by falling in and out of a tryptophan coma on the sofa as football plays on the television. For thousands of soldiers currently on deployments all over the world, this is not always the case.
About 160 soldiers of Task Force Guardian, Indiana National Guard, gathered at the American Legion Post 598 in Horizon City, Texas on Thanksgiving Day for feasting, football and fun.
Task Force Guardian is comprised of soldiers from the 381st and the 387th Military Police Companies from the cities of Plymouth and New Albany, Ind. The unit returned to Fort Bliss, Nov. 18, for demobilization after completing a nine-month tour in Afghanistan where they conducted police mentorship operations.
“We tried to get the soldiers home for the Thanksgiving. It’s hard to miss all the birthdays and holidays, but this is a million times better than celebrating it in country or in the barracks,” said Master Sgt. Wayne E. Kannapel, company first sergeant.
The event was hosted by the American Legion Post 598 and has been a tradition for about five years now according to Ray E. Horn, veteran and chairman of the executive committee with the American Legion. “We try to host a unit that is mobilizing or demobilizing because they don’t have family or connections in the community. So we reach out to be their extended family while they’re in the Fort Bliss,” said Horn.
The event is made possible through generous donations and contributions from local businesses and organizations in the El Paso community. The Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment coordinated transportation for the unit, supplied table and chairs, and the projector and screen used to display the football game.
Before dinner, the soldiers were given a series of presentations, some of which included a speech by the Legion commander, presentation of the POW/MIA table, the reading of a hero essay by a Legion son, and a patriotic slideshow. “We want to give thanks to the soldiers and what they have done for us and our country,” said Horn.
Afterward, a large buffet table full of all the Thanksgiving fixings and deserts was open to all. The Legion family and the 402nd Field Artillery Brigade command group served food to the soldiers along with Brig. Gen. Michael D. Navrkal, deputy commanding general of operations, First Army Division West.
Each table had a personalized place setting made by children from a local elementary school. “I moved seats a couple times and took the same place mat with me. I’m going to take this home and use it every Thanksgiving,” said Sgt. Patrick T. Minard, 387th Military Police Company.
As the soldiers enjoyed their Thanksgiving meal, football games projected onto a large screen and country music blared from the jukebox. “We’re away from our families, and these guys don’t have to do this. It shows how veterans take care of each other,” said Sgt. Bradley J. Funk, 381st Military Police Company.
After the feast, soldiers were able to unwind and have some fun with games like air hockey, shuffle board, foosball, horse shoes, and a variety of card and board games.
“On every deployment, I always take something back. You see what other people in the world live like, and when you come back, especially on Thanksgiving, you find out what you’re really thankful for. I may not be home, but I’m not living in a mud hut either. I’m around friends and good people. The countries I’ve been to, it’s all war. Here, we have guys playing games, good music, excellent food…when you break it down, that’s what it’s all about,” said Sgt. Bradley J. Funk, 381st Military Police Company.