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U.S. Soldiers Share Thanksgiving Tradition With Iraqis

By Staff Sgt. Angela McKinzie, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

YUSUFIYAH, Iraq, Nov. 24, 2006 – In 1620, natives of England sailed to the Americas in hopes of a better future, but suffered a devastating first winter. At the beginning of the following fall, 46 of the original 102 pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower to America had died, making the harvest of 1621 a special occasion to the survivors.

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Army Capt. Christopher McDonald (left), a native of Sterling, N.Y., who serves as a staff officer with the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division,, and Maj. Mahssen, the 4th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, executive officer, talk while they are celebrating Thanksgiving together in Yusufiyah, Iraq, Nov. 23. Photo by Staff Sgt. Angela McKinzie, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

To celebrate the harvest, the remaining colonists decided to have a feast and invite the Indians who had helped them survive their first year in America. This was the beginning of Thanksgiving celebrations to come.

Soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, shared the true meaning of Thanksgiving yesterday with the Iraqi soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division.

“I invited the Iraqi soldiers to come share Thanksgiving with us,” said Capt. Christopher McDonald, a native of Sterling, N.Y., who serves as a 4-31 staff officer. “I figured since we train and fight together, then we might as well eat together.”

The Iraqi soldiers, who had never eaten in the 4-31 dining facility before, scooped up the traditional Thanksgiving food – turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie – and put it on their plates. As they passed through the dining facility, they greeted everyone with a smile and a message: “Happy Thanksgiving.”

The Iraqi soldiers had not only learned to say “Happy Thanksgiving” in English, but also what the holiday meant.

“Sharing this meal is a time that we (Iraqis and Americans) can come together and be thankful that we have each other,” said Maj. Mahssen, the Iraqi division’s executive officer. “We come and eat together as brothers.”

Sharing a Thanksgiving meal was important to many of the U.S. soldiers, because they feel the Iraqi soldiers are like family.

“I feel great that we are inviting them to share our culture with us since they always share their culture with (us),” said Pvt. Sean Mathis, an infantryman with 4-31 and native of Sandersville, Ga. “Eating with them is like the same concept of eating with our families – they are like family.”

Sharing Thanksgiving is only one of the things U.S. and Iraqi soldiers do together.

“We do everything combined here – from sharing security to sharing strong points,” said Lt. Col. Michael Infanti, the 4-31 commander and native of Stafford, Va. “I wanted them to share this occasion with us.”

Behind the scenes of the occasion were the food service specialists who were up bright and early preparing the meal while most of the infantrymen were patrolling the area.

While most people have their fine china out for Thanksgiving, the food service specialists of 4-31 worked in a small, hot kitchen using the only utensils they had preparing a meal for hours for their fellow soldiers.

“Preparing this meal makes me feel good that we are doing something for our fellow soldiers,” said Pfc. Eddie Crow, a native of Rock Falls, Ill., who serves as a 4-31 food service specialist.

For most of the 4-31 and Iraqi soldiers, the meal was just a small break for the day. After eating, they continued their missions and reflected on what they were truly thankful for.

“Today was just like any other morning. The bad guys don’t take holidays, and if we are not out there, someone is going to get hurt,” Infanti said. “But I am thankful for one thing – no one was injured or killed today.”

(Army Staff Sgt. Angela McKinzie is assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Dustin Owen, a native of Franklinville, N.Y., who serves as a food service specialist with the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, cuts turkey during the preparation for the Thanksgiving meal in Yusufiyah, Iraq, Nov. 23. Photo by Staff Sgt. Angela McKinzie, USA  
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