Mark The Day
At Camp Ramadi
By SSG JOSHUA HIGGINS
U.S. Marine Corps
CAMP RAMADI, Iraq -- Thanksgiving Day at Camp Ramadi in Iraq started out like most days. The Marines with Regimental Combat Team 1 woke up early and went right to work.
Some Marines even said they forgot the holiday had arrived until someone greeted them with the stereotypical phrase, "Happy Thanksgiving!" But by mid-day, holiday festivities were in full swing.
For lunch, the dining facility served turkey and ham, accompanied by dressing, corn-on-the-cob, yams and most other side dishes associated with a typical holiday meal. Thankfully there were to-go boxes by the front door.
The facility is never short of desserts, but on Thanksgiving it was -- well, for a lack of better words -- ridiculous. There was pumpkin pie, apple pie, cherry pie, carrot cake, chocolate cake, cakes decorated with images of turkeys and pilgrims, fruit cobblers, more flavors of ice cream than one could even name, and finally a pineapple cut in half with chunks of cake and pineapple mixed up inside and covered with whipped cream, topped with cherries.
The dining facility's staff had hung Thanksgiving Day decorations throughout. There were several paper mache turkeys, but one oddity that seemed a little out of place was a bread carving of an alligator.
Army General Raymond T. Odierno, the Multinational Forces-Iraq commander, visited and ate with service members here, taking the opportunity to thank them for their sacrifices. He reminded everyone that people back home in the U.S. are thinking about us and are thankful for the job we are doing.
Country music artist Aaron Tippin made stops throughout Iraq during the week and performed here for more than an hour as part of his annual tour visiting deployed service members.
Tippin performed songs including "My Blue Angel," "Drill Here, Drill Now," "You've Got to Stand for Something," and crowd favorite "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly."
After the show Tippin signed autographs and posed for photos with fans.
And what would Thanksgiving Day be without some good, old-fashioned backyard American football? Or in this case, a flag football tournament dubbed the Camp Ramadi Turkey Bowl.
Sixteen teams competed throughout the week, and the event culminated Thanksgiving Day with the championship game between my team (RCT-1) and the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery Regiment.
All week long we hoped for a final matchup against an Army team. The camp is primarily split between Army and Marines, so playing the championship against our Army brothers would continue a long-running rivalry and give the winner bragging rights at least until the next tournament.
During the first half, scoring went back and forth nearly as much as the "trash talking." But in the second half, our defense held them to only one score while our offense continued piling on the points. The final score was Marines 38, Army 18, but more importantly everyone seemed to have a good time and the games gave us all a feel of home for the holiday.
Serving abroad far away from our families can be very difficult, especially during the holidays when most of us are accustomed to large family gatherings.
But the troops here were able to keep our spirits up and focus on our mission thanks to staff at the camp's dining facility and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office; visits from officials and others who took time out of their busy schedules; and the all-important care packages sent by loved ones and complete strangers.
The end of our tour of duty in Iraq is in sight, and I think the majority of us are looking beyond the holidays to our return home sometime in January. But as long as we are here we will continue to make the best of our time.
Staff Sgt. Higgins grew up in Mosheim and joined the Marine Corps in 1997 as an infantryman.
After four years of service, he moved into the Corps' public affairs field and now serves as public affairs chief for Regimental Combat Team 1, I Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD).