Whether you stayed at home or suffered airport crowds to visit your family this holiday season, you were lucky. For more than 100,000 members of the U.S. armed forces and many civilian contractors, Christmas was limited to deserts, rifles and a brief phone call home. I remember from my service in Korea (10 years ago), that the military does make the effort to ease the pain a bit with a fantastic meal, and reports from the ground in Iraq show that the tradition continues.
On Camp Anaconda, the largest U.S. military installation in Iraq, soldiers and contractors were treated to a substantial feast, with senior officers serving those with lower ranks in a show of appreciation both for their daily efforts and the fact that they could not enjoy the holiday under more pleasant circumstances.
A meal without ambiance, of course, lacks a crucial element. So, to deliver a complete holiday experience, the dining facilities (as “chow halls” are now called) were decorated to remind the guests of where they’d rather be. Christmas trees stood along the walls, and in one location, Santa himself lounged in a hammock. Hominy grits were dyed and used to spell out a greeting to those who entered the makeshift “oasis” in the Iraqi desert.
For the rest of the day, activities varied. Camp Anaconda is a fairly large site, with plenty of distractions available, though the basics of life, such as doing laundry, topped the agendas of those serving thousands of miles from home.
It’s hard not to dwell on what you’re missing, but the residents of Camp Anaconda certainly made the best of their collective situation, enjoying what amenities were available and sitting down for a full meal during which they gave the orders to the officers who usually call the shots.
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