One of the things I truly miss about the military is how they celebrate the holiday season. It really didn’t matter if I was with my biological family or with my Army brothers and sisters; one way or another we were going to spend it as a family. I fondly look back at Thanksgiving in particular as some of the greatest family experiences and celebrations I have participated in.
As a child growing up and even into my own professional career, just about every Thanksgiving dinner was consumed in the chow hall. The normally dull and drab cafeteria was transformed into a glorious banquet hall, tastefully decorated in fall colors with beautiful displays of fruit, breads and deserts that were crafted with the careful precision of a high caliber restaurant. I can recollect the inviting smells of deliciousness swirling throughout the air and was actually given the opportunity to mull over my dinner options without someone yelling at me to hurry and make my mind up. This was only one of a few times in the year where I was not barked at by a Private for requesting more than one serving of meat and starch and was actually given the opportunity to load up my plate to my hearts content.
I vividly remember seeing the officers and senior NCOs in their Dress Blues, all of their ribbons and awards neatly aligned, wearing the unpopular, but fitting, bus-drivers hat, and having the confident appearance of a leader. Each one greeting every soldier and family member as if they were aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, with a handshake and a smile, for they knew, for most of the soldiers there, they were the only family they had to celebrate the holidays with. These leaders cherished this thought of our own pseudo-family as everyone slowly made their way down the serving line.
As my career in the Army progressed, I soon found myself in the same position as those NCOs I watched as a child. It was my turn to don my dress blues, ensure that every little detail was exact and to stand proud and greet everyone with a smile as they passed before me. As a leader, I could feel the gratitude of each soldier and family member as I looked and thanked them for coming while they enjoyed the multitude of deliciousness I had the humble opportunity to serve them. It was Thanksgiving that I set aside the my mantra of the hard-charging NCO who’s primary responsibility was to make sure my boys were ready to go to war, to the loving parent, making sure that they knew just how much I cared for them and wanted to make sure they had what they needed as far as emotional support.
Those days are long gone, but the memories are still there and very strong. For some reason, I still have my blues put together, hanging neatly in the closet, for what reason I don’t know, but they are. I miss the bond that we had as soldiers, quite frankly, it just cannot be replicated.
So instead of polishing brass and aligning ribbons this year as I have done many times in the past; I will instead close with a simple thank you to the men and women of this great country’s military, serving away from home. Even though you may not be with your “real” family, you are with a family nonetheless and you should embrace it.
It will not last forever.