Marines celebrate Thanksgiving in the deserts of Kuwait

Friday, November 29, 2002

CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait -- It was approaching noon in the deserts of Kuwait. The sand was not blowing much and it was just about time for Thanksgiving dinner.

"They've got actual turkey here," said Lt. Col. Kirk Bruno, addressing the U.S. Marines stationed here. "I'm not sure how good it's going to be."

Actually, the turkey was pretty good, despite being served in a stifling tent, for the several hundred Marines and sailors deployed at this base about two hours' drive from Iraq.

As America prepares for a possible war with Iraq, the Marines have established Camp Commando on the edge of a Kuwaiti military base to act as their command headquarters. From here, they will be able to control the tens of thousands of Marines who could arrive in Kuwait.

A few weeks ago, the base was virtually sand.

"Look around you and see what we've done," the base commander, Col. John Cunnings, said. "We've built a whole city."

The assembly began with the recorded sound of bagpipes skirling out martial music and was watched over by soldiers manning heavy machine-guns.

For these soldiers -- mostly from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif. -- it was yet another Thanksgiving away from home.

"It's a sacrifice," said 1st Lt. Travis Knight, of Chattanooga, Tenn., who left two daughters and a pregnant wife back in the United States. But "it's keeping people more safe at home."

Knight spent last Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's in Kuwait.

"This is what the Marine Corps is all about -- preparing for missions and doing missions," he said.

His wife is paying a bigger price than him this year.

"She's at home, pregnant, taking care of two kids and a house," he said.

The soldiers find their own way to celebrate American holidays. At Camp Commando, they ate a leisurely Thanksgiving meal and then played a game of touch football in the sand.

Never alone

For most troops, loneliness is not the big problem. Many left the United States less than two weeks ago and have been working 12-hour shifts since they arrived in Kuwait.

In addition, they have each other.

"It's like being among family," said Lance Cpl. Cade Hines of Auburn, Neb., sitting in the meal tent, his rifle at his side. "We're never alone out here."

It was a sense shared by other American military personnel as they celebrated the holiday far from home.

"We have a duty to do out here and we get a lot of support from each other," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Pitz of Akron, Ohio, who shared 780 pounds of turkey with his shipmates aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau.

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