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In the Sand and Heat, Thanksgiving Still Special for GIs

November 21, 1990

IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ A year ago, Johnny Harris spent Thanksgiving in Marine Corps boot camp. This year, he’ll have turkey with the trimmings among the flies in the gritty Saudi Arabian desert.

″It’s still special. We consider ourselves family in the Marine Corps. I’ll miss the football though,″ said Harris, 18, of Chicago, a private first class in the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Of the visit to the troops by President Bush, Harris said: ″To see the highest person over us come here lets us know we’re doing something good. It’ll be good for him to spend some time with us.″

The troops deployed in the desert may not have all the niceties of back home, but their hearts are tuned to the same thoughts: family, food and football.

The military has done everything it can to observe Thanksgiving for the 230,000 Americans in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield.

-The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service will broadcast Thursday’s NFL game between the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos from the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich.

-U.S. Air Force units in Oman will hold a mock Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Eight floats, several marching units and a band with homemade instruments will be featured. Various units from five Air Force commands and 23 bases will participate.

What goes into a dinner for 230,000?

Well, 90,000 pounds of turkey have been ordered, along with 70,000 pounds of roast beef and 45,000 pounds of baked ham. For dessert, there are 32,000 pies, including minced meat, pumpkin, cherry and apple, 230,000 Mars or Snickers candy bars donated by Saudi Arabia, 12,000 pounds of nuts and 17,000 pounds of fruitcake.

The dinner menu being prepared in the field kitchens includes roast turkey, shrimp cocktail, gravy, roast beef or ham, bread and corn bread dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, glazed sweet potatoes, corn, mixed vegetables, fresh fruit, assorted pies and egg nog.

But the troops hunkered down on the front lines may have to settle for tray rations, which are like prepackaged TV dinners that are heated by immersing them in boiling water. They will feature turkey with dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, deserts, cakes, fruits and assorted drinks.

No one will be eating turkey MREs, which is a military acronym for Meals, Ready-to-eat.

″The idea is to provide every service member with a hot turkey meal,″ said U.S. Army Capt. Glenda Kitchen, spokeswoman for military operations here. ″We’re trying to make it a festive event.″

Part of the trimmings include decorations of paper turkeys and cornucopia horns.

″Being out in the desert and the heat isn’t going to change anything. It’s still part of being American,″ said Marine Sgt. Don White, 32, of Winter Haven, Fla. ″It’s always a sacrifice to be away from home. Sometimes you got to make that sacrifice. Somebody’s got to be on the job.″

Lance Cpl. Donald Tuyls, 24, of Poway, Calif., will be away from his wife and daughter. But it won’t stop him from doing his duty.

″I always took holidays in stride,″ Tuyls said. ″Hey, I’ll fight on Christmas Day if I have to. It won’t stop me.″

Army Sgt. Daniel Walker, 29, of Sacramento, Calif., will be thinking of his wife and two kids. A National Guardsman, he was activated for duty in Saudi Arabia and arrived Nov. 6.

″I’ve spent holidays away from home before, and it’s always been hard on the family,″ Walker said.

The special menu will mean a lot to the soldiers in the Army’s 75th Field Artillery Brigade, which is one of the northernmost deployed units in Saudi Arabia.

″We haven’t had a salad for months up there. For Thanksgiving, we’re getting a salad and all kinds of good stuff,″ said Sgt. Kenneth Hetzer 32. ″I don’t know what we’ll have for lunch. Another MRE, I guess.″

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