By Lt. Col. Cindi King
To some, it’s part of the job and they’ve learned to make the most of it. To others, it’s their first deployment and the first time they are far from home during the holidays.
Thanksgiving – and the entire holiday season – is traditionally a time for loved ones to be together and share gratitude for everything they hold dear. This year, more than 4,000 U.S. National Guard Soldiers in the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team from North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia are deployed to support Operation Spartan Shield in the Middle East. While they are focused on their mission, thoughts of home are common, as soldiers reflect on their service and how they will spend this holiday season thousands of miles away.
“This is the first year I’ve been away at Thanksgiving,” said Army Spc. Tamara Murrill. “I’m making the best of it, calling my family whenever I can.”
Murrill has been in the North Carolina Army National Guard for three years, with Operation Spartan Shield in Kuwait being her first deployment.
“Being away is making me appreciate home even more,” Murrill said. “I’m thankful for my family and how supportive they have been. They miss me and I miss them.”
For Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler, being away from home during the holidays is not new, with this deployment being his third as a member of the North Carolina Army National Guard.
“I tell my soldiers to make sure they stay connected to home and friends, whether through calling, writing letters, or even keeping a journal,” Butler said. “It’s important they stay in touch, send care packages and communicate to home.”
Butler, who deployed to Iraq in 2004, Bagdad in 2010, and now Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield, said that he is grateful to be able to talk to his family through technology. He added the sense of comradery that comes with military service has also helped, having served with some fellow soldiers for almost 20 years in the National Guard.
“I’m grateful for the Lord’s blessings and thankful for my family,” Butler said, who has been married for 19 years to his wife Tasha. They have two children, daughter Jordyn and son Camden.
Eating is also a tradition at Thanksgiving and other events at this festive time of the year. To keep that sense of home while deployed, some soldiers received care packages with holiday treats inside.
“My mom sent me a pecan pie, as she knows I love it,” said Army Spc. Roman Smith, who is on his first deployment supporting Operation Spartan Shield.
Smith, who is married with a three-year-old son, said that he is keeping in touch with family through Facetime and texts and that the pecan pie reminds him of being home in North Carolina.
The dining facilities on the installation are planning to serve food that service members can relate to on Thanksgiving and other winter holidays, such as turkey, stuffing, potatoes and pies.
“They try to make it special, with food that service members would be enjoying at home,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer Holly Hommel.
“It’s important for morale, with people missing their families.”
-This story originally appeared on Army.mil. It has been edited for USO.org.