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U.S. Troops Eat Turkey Abroad

November 22, 2001

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BERLIN (AP) _ A surprise awaited the hundreds who turned out for Thanksgiving dinner at the nerve center for the U.S. military’s operations in Europe: Top officers who usually dish out orders were serving plates of turkey and pumpkin pie.

Along with the role reversal, the holiday meal at U.S. European Command’s Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, provided a taste of home and a break from the tension since the Sept. 11 terror attacks put American troops worldwide on high alert.

``We still have the individuals on the post carrying weapons _ there’s still force protection _ but I think everybody is relaxing and just enjoying the meal,″ said Rear Adm. Brian Calhoun, director of operations for the European command who was passing out pie in his Navy dress blues.

Calhoun was one of dozens of high-ranking officers who volunteered to serve food. An Air Force brigadier general served the turkey.

``Normally our tradition has been eating with the troops ... so this is a new adventure for the Navy guys,″ Calhoun said by telephone.

The 800 people eating at Patch Barracks were among about 100,000 American military personnel in Europe enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner, which is the highlight meal of the year on every U.S. military base and ship.

At the main U.S. base in Kosovo, the smell of roast turkey sent Army Lt. Col. David G. Paschal’s mind drifting around the world _ to his family in Chicago and to fellow U.S. soldiers hunting Osama bin Laden.

``My thoughts and prayers are with our soldiers on another mission in Afghanistan,″ said Paschal, 40, lining up for a feast at Camp Bondsteel, the base for the 3,000 American peacekeepers in the Yugoslav province. ``All across the world, we should be thankful for the blessings that we have.″

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared Thanksgiving breakfast with troops at Eagle base, the main American peacekeeping post in Bosnia. He said he came ``to be over here on a U.S. holiday that’s important to our soldiers.″

At Ramstein Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany, the men and women of the 437th Airlift Wing of Charleston, S.C., who have dropped nearly 2 million individual food packets over Afghanistan since Oct. 7, planned to eat a rare meal together.

In Stuttgart, the head of food operations at Patch Barracks, Frank Mottin, put together a spread that included ham, Cornish game hens and turkey, two kinds of stuffing, gravy, vegetables, a half dozen different pies and a cake. Soldiers were encouraged to bring their families and friends.

``It seems like a really tight-knit family even though there are a lot of people here,″ said Mottin, a former soldier. ``It makes me and all the cooks feel good.″

Army Maj. Sam Pikula, a special forces reservist from Scottsdale, Ariz., who was called up and sent to Germany three weeks ago, appreciated the effort put into his favorite holiday.

``It’s kind of a thin slice of home. You sit at a table with a bunch of people who are just like you and there’s a bond,″ Pikula said.

``I’d prefer to be in Afghanistan eating it,″ he added. ``I’m a special forces officer; that’s where I’d like to be. But this is about as close as I can get.″

At Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, a makeshift shrine stood on a table in the cavernous mess hall: a Statue of Liberty surrounded by the figures of a firefighter, a doctor, a police officer and a fire truck.

``I will keep you and bless you through every dark day,″ read a sign on the table. ``On this day of Thanksgiving, let us not forget the heroic lives that were taken on Sept. 11, 2001.″

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