Monday, December 04, 2006

Thanksgiving in a former al Qaeda stronghold

By Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div.

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — The Yusufiyah Thermal Power Plant, southwest of Baghdad, was one of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division’s assignments to seize and hold when the BCT deployed to the area in September. The plant, unfinished and empty, had long been a terrorist stronghold and rallying area. But on Nov. 23, about 150 Soldiers from the brigade had a hot, fresh Thanksgiving dinner among the rusting scaffolding. They were served by Col. Michael Kershaw, the brigade commander and a native of Huffman, Texas, and several company commanders and first sergeants.
“I like it when (brigade command staff) comes by,” said Pfc. Michael Shu, a medic with Company A, 2nd Battalion 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, a Dallas, Texas native. “It shows that they care for the troops. It feels like they’re going to watch over us, and like we have a purpose here.”
Capt. Bernard Vanbrocklin, of Russell, N.Y., commander of Company E, 2nd Brigade Support Battalion, spent time handing out plates and flatware as Soldiers filed by for the meal.
“It’s a pleasure to serve the troops,” he said. “It gives us a chance to give back to the Soldiers what they do for us every day.”
Maj. Kenny Mintz, brigade operations officer and a native of Fallbrook, Calif., agreed.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” said Mintz. “These guys lay it on the line every day, and they deserve the best.”
“I never thought we’d be in one of the most feared places (in our area),” said 1st Sgt. David Schumacher, of Easton, Penn., first sergeant for Company A, 2-14. “Now we’re serving Thanksgiving dinner here.”
“It really shows they care a lot about the Soldiers,” said Pfc. Joe Branneky, a native of Orlando, Fla., a squad automatic weapon gunner for Company C, 2-14. “It really shows that they’re human too, and that they care about the boots-on-the-ground Soldiers. I think they really appreciate us, and I’m proud to be serving under them.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony W. Mahoney, brigade command sergeant major, said he was pleased to be with the Soldiers for the holiday, although he visits the plant and the troops there about once a week.
“We have Soldiers in this brigade from each of the 50 United States, and an unknown number of countries outside the United States. They have worked here for about sixty days and trained here for a year since our last deployment. Now they’re spending Thanksgiving Day here on the banks of the Euphrates River. Their thoughts are with their families, and they are here with their surrogate family.
“It is a testament to the commitment of these young men and women that we do this. I am extremely proud to be a part of this and to contribute in whatever small measure I am able.”
Kershaw and Mahoney also visited troops at Forward Operating Bases Rushdi Mullah, Al-Taraq, Gator Swamp, and Yusufiyah for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It was a real pleasure to have (command) serve us,” said Pfc. Shane Beagley, a cavalry scout with Troop A, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment and a native of Spanish Fork, Utah. He currently works out of FOB Gator Swamp.
“It made me feel respected as a private first class in the Army. And the chow is delicious.”
Capt. Jeffery Bryan, a native of Springfield, Mo., and the battalion chaplain for the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, spent time talking with the Soldiers under his care especially around the holiday.
“I saw a lot of different Soldiers, and the morale was pretty good,” he said. “They seem to be hearing from home, there’s a lot of communication, and the leadership went out to see the Soldiers that couldn’t be here.”
While the Thanksgiving dinners around the 2nd BCT’s area of operations perhaps weren’t perfect, they seemed to hit the right notes – at least for Pfc. Joshua Sims of Meridian, Miss., an infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4-31.
“It’s good,” he said. “It feels more like home.”

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