CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- Across Iraq, service members celebrated Thanksgiving Day with turkey served in chow halls, turkey meals-ready-to-eat for those outside of bases, and services commemorating an event older than the United States itself. For some, it was a time to remember their families and friends back home, for others who were recently involved in combat against insurgents during Operation Steel Curtain, it was a moment to reflect and give thanks.
“It’s been a humbling experience out here,” said Lance Cpl. Michael R. Gilio, of Naperville, Ill., an infantry team leader with battle-hardened Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, who turned 21 Thanksgiving Day. “We had a lot of close calls and I’m thankful for not getting hit harder than we did.”
At a transient tent for personnel coming and going here, a group of Marines arriving in Iraq as combat replacements spent their holiday afternoon playing cards on top of a cot. Despite being away from their families, they felt thankful for the company they shared amongst themselves.
“I do miss my family,” said Lance Cpl. Justin W. Hilke, 27, of Fontana, Wis., an infantryman who volunteered to come to Iraq to serve with the quick reaction force under Regimental Combat Team - 2. “But I’ve got these guys to hang out with and talk about whatever I want to share with them.”
Outside the chow hall, where turkey was being served for dinner, Marines with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, waited quietly as they reflected on their fallen brethren during recent combat operations. For many of them the loss was personal, but many spoke of their resolve to protect each other and they were grateful for those strengthened bonds.
“These are my brothers. No matter what we do, we have each others’ backs,” said Cpl. Jason A. Powell, 27, of Osceola, Iowa, and a squad leader and machine gunner assigned to Company F. “No matter what direction I go, they are out there (outside the base) with me and that’s something to be thankful for.”