Thanksgiving at home away from home

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amber R. Kelly-Herard
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The streets were lined with hundreds of expatriates cheering, holding up welcome signs and even saluting as buses arrived. Based on the crowd's reaction it may have appeared the buses contained celebrities, but in fact, they carried hundreds of service members from various military installations Nov. 19 at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.

While the service members were not at a homecoming ceremony, they were coming "home" for a day to partake in a Thanksgiving celebration.

Upon arriving, the service members were dispersed among several families.

"This is the best thing we do all year," said Allyson Schaff, one of the host family members. "We have a lot of other things we do, but everyone looks forward to this. This is our Thanksgiving celebration. It feels like we are with family being able to share a meal with Americans, so we won't do another Thanksgiving celebration."

Host families opened up their houses to the service members allowing them to use the Internet, TV and any other amenities normally unavailable at a deployed location. Additionally, the housing compound featured a beach, swimming pool, fitness center, park and recreation center that were also accessible to the service members. To top off the day, the families prepared a traditional Thanksgiving meal featuring turkey, potatoes, candied yams, ham, dressing, green bean casserole and more including an additional table filled with desserts.

"We started planning about a month ahead, determining who would cook what and making shopping trips," Schaff said. "We started cooking Wednesday, so it took about four days to get the whole thing done."

Despite the hard work, the family members said they do not feel they go without benefiting.

"The service members leave the best impression -- every year we meet some of the most polite and appreciative people," Schaff said. "We feel really happy to have them, and they are happy to be here. We do all the cooking but, it's really positive for us. I feel like we get more out of it."

Of the attendees, 17 Airmen from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, were present.

"I felt so welcomed, I was amazed," said Airman 1st Class Michael Paredes, a 332nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group knowledge operations manager. "It was a treat in itself to go off base, so I was grateful because not all deployed people can do that."

"The families were amazing," Paredes said. "Nothing beats a home cooked meal."

At the end of the day, the service members were all given more food to share with those in their units who could not attend. Prior to departing, the families and service members exchanged handshakes, hugs, email addresses and took photos. Finally, the service members left with the same signs, cheers and salutes they were greeted with.