by J.L. O'Dell
Soldiers on patrol looking forward to a Thanksgiving meal
| GI TURKEY
My platoon spent the two weeks before Thanksgiving Day on patrol along the hills separating Afghanistan from Pakistan. The daily weather was bearable, but the nights could get very cold. Most of the time we were patrolling, looking for Al Qaeda strongholds. Al Qaeda didn’t much like us hunting them and they were prone to attacking us when they could. Two of my friends were evac back to the base hospital after one firefight. I guess they’re both back in the States now at Walter Reed recovering.990 words
Our platoon sergeant kept our spirits up by reminding us that we were doing a job no one else wanted and we should be proud. Plus, he would say, “Turkey Day is close, and we are told that one hell of a Thanksgiving meal is going to be sent out here to us.” That alone had our spirits high. The guys and I couldn’t wait for turkey with all the trimmings and especially, maybe, some pumpkin pie. We were all tired of meals ready to eat (MRE). But food is food when you’re trudging the hills looking for an enemy who knows the area better than you. Got to keep your strength up.
At the end of our patrol for the day, we found several caves in a small draw between two hills. After searching the caves and finding nothing, the platoon leader decided we would hole up here for the night. Guards were put out and after eating cold MRE’s, we tried to sleep. The temperature was dropping now that the sun was down.
I was awakened at 0200 hours by the squad leader. It was my turn for guard duty. I checked my M-4 rifle and got moving towards the cave entrance. The other three soldiers going on guard were also there. We received our orders and went out to relieve those guards who were at the end of their shift and eager to get some shut eye.
My two hours on guard went quickly. It was a cold, moonless night. The clouds hung so low you almost were tempted to reach up and try to touch them. Once back at the cave, I curled up into a ball and tried to get some more sleep.
Dawn came early, and we resumed our patrol but moving back towards our base camp now. The rest of Bravo company was some twenty miles back where the camp was set up. Bravo had been out here almost three months patrolling this area.
Everyone’s spirit was high. We were almost at the end of our long-range patrol. Foot patrols were hard on the feet but that is what the infantry does. Besides, you couldn’t get vehicles in the areas we needed to get into. And vehicles make good targets. Give me a rock to hide behind anytime.
We covered the first ten miles that day, before we found an area to hole up for the night. As usual, guards were out and the rest of us ate and tried to get some sleep. I don’t know when it happened. I didn’t look at my watch. I heard gun fire, so I grabbed my helmet and rifle and headed to the nearest cover. Everyone was moving and returning fire towards the rocks some 400 meters to our front.
During the early morning darkness, Al Qaeda had somehow managed to slip up on us before one of our sentries saw them and opened fire. Bullets were flying everywhere but me and the guys didn’t care. We keep firing and maneuvering under the guidance of our platoon leaders until Al Qaeda broke contact and run. The area was quickly searched and secured. It was going to be a long night. But Turkey Day was coming, and we could taste the bird. Everyone was anxious to get back on the road at first light, but we needed to be extra careful now. Somehow, we got lucky and didn’t suffer any casualties. We knew Al Qaeda was in our sector and caution was more important than turkey. The rest of the patrol was going to be intense and slow.
By midday we were about six miles from camp and anxious to get there. The weather was still cloudy and overcast. It was Thanksgiving Day and we all had turkey fever. We continued to move cautiously towards our camp without making any contact.
The main gate of camp was opened as we approached. We went through and headed to our platoon area where we had our sleeping area set up for use when we weren’t out on a long-range patrol. It was like “Home, Sweet, Home” to us.
Chow was about to begin so we headed in that direction. Only there wasn’t the smell of turkey in the air. We all knew the birds would be cooked back in the rear, sliced up, packaged and sent out to our camp, but shouldn’t we smell something of the bird.
Our First Sergeant had the rest of the company in formation, so we fell into 2nd platoon’s space. He was pacing the area to our front talking to the platoon sergeants. I didn’t smell turkey, but I smelled problems.
First Sergeant faced the company and told us to stand at ease. “Got a problem gentleman,” he said in his usual gruff baritone. “The chopper with our Thanksgiving meal couldn’t lift off today. They’re grounded because of the cloud cover. The ceilings too low.”
“What about our turkey?” One soldier called out.
“Well, I guess someone else is eating it, cause it ain’t gonna be us. But our cooks have prepared a great replacement meal with what they had on hand.”
“If we’re not getting turkey, what are we getting?” I think it was the same soldier asking.
The First Sergeant looked out at us smiling. “It’s called, “Mystery Meat,” and I hear it’s spamalicous. So, Bravo Company, “Happy Thanksgiving!”