I will be spending my Thanksgiving on Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. This will be my second Thanksgiving in a row to be in an Army uniform working, away from my family—last year I was working night shift at the Pentagon. But don’t feel badly for me for a second, I love what I do and I asked to be here. That being said, I may be the exception to the rule. Since I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, I’ve asked a few friends here at Bagram Air Field to participate in my blog this week to share how they feel about being deployed during the holidays. These are not edited or filtered in anyway, just the first 3 people I asked.
SrA Ashley Barlow works in the Combat Stress Clinic here. “The holidays are always a hard time to be away from our loved ones but I feel that what I am doing here is worth missing Thanksgiving this year,” said the Air Force Patient Administration Tech from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. “This Thanksgiving will not be what I would like for it to be, but it will be with my new family. I have grown close to several people since the start of my deployment and they have become like family to me. Thanksgiving is about acknowledging the things in our life that we are thankful for. Being deployed reminds you of the little and simple things in our life that sometimes we take for granted.” Barlow will be home for Christmas though—she leaves Afghanistan in 2 weeks.
“Sure, I’d rather be home,” said SPC Jon Heaviland, an Army Soldier at Bagram who is specially trained for personal security work. “Of course I’d rather be with my family. In the past 3 ½ years, I’ve had one Thanksgiving at home with my wife and family.” Heaviland, or “Heavy” as his friends call him, does not plan to return to the Army once his enlistment is up and is looking forward to college and spending time with his wife and friends back home in Lowell, Indiana.
“Even though my husband and I are not home, there is still a lot to be thankful for,” said SSG Tara Muirheid. “Jake and I may be several miles away, but we try to put a positive spin on this. This is our second deployment being separated and we look at it as we get to have the newlywed feeling all over again once we return!” SSG Muirheid and her husband are both Army Soldiers from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky who are deployed to Afghanistan at the same time. SSG Muirheid works as the primary Administrative Assistant to the 101st Division Command Sergeant Major. “To rediscover one another, how each of us has changed or grown through our experiences, and to let this bring us as close as possible mentally. A letter takes about 21 days to get from RC-E to RC-S. We constantly write to one another and carry the most recent love note in our pocket. This way when we haven't heard each other's voice in a while or we are struggling we can pull it out and feel closer. We have found each other because of the Army so we must endure the hard times as well as the blessed ones. We have a love to story to be thankful for and the rest of our lives to write it.” Muirheid will return to Ft. Campbell in the summer.
SSG Donna Bryant grew up in sunny Miami, Florida. Here in Afghanistan, she is serves as the driver and Events Coordinator for Distinguished Visitors at Bagram, who hail from all over the world and represent different cultures and nationalities to include local Afghans and visiting Americans. “Thanksgiving is very important to my family. This will be the second one in a row that I have been away from my family,” she said. “Last year I was in Korea. It's hard but I made a special effort to call when they are all together so they know that I am doing ok and that my thoughts are with them on such a day. I will make the same effort this Thanksgiving.” Bryant is an active duty Army Soldier stationed at Ft. Benning, GA where she will return in the summer.
As for me, I am really not sad or upset to be here for my Thanksgiving. I’m sure this might be easier for me since I am not married, do not have kids, and I am in a relatively safe place here in Afghanistan. I’m sure Soldiers who are engaged in actual combat, for example, may have a different perspective. Of course I’d rather be with my family—or actually, to be honest, I’d rather have them here with me this year, to be a part of my experience over here. That would be funny, picturing my mom riding in a Chinook and carrying a weapon and my Nana complaining about all the dust everywhere. While at first it seems a bit depressing to be away from family during Thanksgiving, it’s really not always so bad. I would never want to give up my experiences I’ve had over the years with my Army friends and “family.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved and looked forward to Thanksgiving with my family and friends. Every year we would gather at my Nana’s house in Blooming Grove, Texas to eat a delicious home-cooked feast, watch the Dallas Cowboys, and spend quality time together talking and playing games. I loved hanging out with my “little” cousins, Joseph, Scott, Patrick, Robert, Michael, Winter, and their parents. The food--amazing. After-dinner lazy nap--relaxing. Beating my little cousins at Pente or checkers--fun. Playing games like Pictionary and Outburst with the family--memorable. Getting to rub it in to Michael and Leon whenever the Cowboys win a game--tremendous fun. But the opportunity of being in Afghanistan with people I’d otherwise never have met and having the honor of offering moral support to Troops when they may be needing it the most--irreplaceable.
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist stationed in Afghanistan. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.