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Chairman Spends Thanksgiving with Troops in Desert, At Sea

American Forces Press Service

NAPLES, ITALY, Dec. 4, 1996 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife spent Thanksgiving Day on a whirlwind visit that began with U.S soldiers in the Sinai and ended on board the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili re-enlisted soldiers, spoke with and posed for pictures with hundreds of U.S. and multinational service members and presented military awards.


Joan Shalikashvili brought along a USO care package of baseball caps, cassettes and compact discs for the soldiers, and she delivered a large pouch stuffed full of letters that Enterprise family members sent her to distribute to loved ones aboard the carrier.


During a short shift serving up turkey dinners in the "Big E's" steamy galley, the pair earned rapid reputations among sailors as being pretty generous with the helpings. But more than anything else, the Shalikashvilis demonstrated -- in convincing fashion -- they understood what it's like spending a major holiday away from family and loved ones.


In the Sinai, the couple visited  soldiers of the 1st U.S. Support Battalion, an element of the 507th Corps Support Group at Fort Bragg, N.C. The unit is part of the Multinational Force and Observers mission established in 1982 as part of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Also in the area are soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, from Fort Shafter, Hawaii.


The general told the soldiers their efforts -- though not as commonly publicized as the dozen-plus other global military operations with U.S. forces -- are important.


"None of [the other operations] is more important than what you do," he said. "You all are in a place that has probably seen more wars than any other piece of land ... going back to biblical times.


"You ... are the main reason there is peace here. There might not be the same headlines about what you're doing ... but don't make any mistake about the importance of what you do. It's an extraordinary success story.


"I bet you it won't be often in your life that you will be using your military skills ... to bring peace, guarantee peace, to millions and millions of people. When someday you feel bad about yourself, then you ought to go and look yourself in a mirror and just remember how good you really are."


The Shalikashvilis then flew to Naples, where they visited sailors aboard the Enterprise.


The "Big E" and its 5,000-member crew were arriving from a half-year cruise enforcing no-fly zones in Bosnia and Iraq. The warship is due back at its home port of Norfolk, Va., a few days before Christmas.


During the 90-minute visit, the general addressed the crew in a closed-circuit television broadcast carried throughout the ship.


"I wanted to come here to tell you in person how very, very much I appreciate what you've done and what you continue to do and how terribly important you are to our nation," he said. "I can't tell you how impressive your performance has been on this deployment."


During the return flight, Shalikashvili said letting troops know he understands what it's like to be away from home during holidays holds especially true for young men and women who are away for the first time. "It's a very difficult period for them," he said, recalling his first Christmas as a soldier in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.


"Everyone else got off work, and I ended up on duty as a guard. So I remember that. And I know it's not easy for young troops to joke about it and pretend that it doesn't bother them, because you know it does. I think that anything any of us can do to tell them that we understand helps them."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageChairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John M. Shalikashvili visits with Petty Officer 2nd Class Melvin Wooley of Rapid City, S.D., seated left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Webster of Monroe, Wash., seated right, during the general’s Thanksgiving Day visit to the USS Enterprise in the Bay of Naples, Italy. Master Sgt. Gary Pomeroy, USAF  
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