- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

Last year Tanya Myers saved Thanksgiving, teaming up with two of her five sisters at the family home in Plainfield, N.J., to turn out roast turkey, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese when her grandmother decided she wasn't up to it.

This year, though, it will be someone else's turn to save Thanksgiving. That's because Tanya Myers is now Airman 1st Class Myers, and she's right in the middle of her training to become a member of the elite Honor Guard at Bolling Air Force base in Southeast Washington.

Still in the first phase of her program, she's restricted to base.

But she's not alone. This Thanksgiving, Washington area military bases will be full of servicemen, servicewomen and their families observing the holiday in a way that's different from the ways they've celebrated before. Some, like Airman 1st Class Myers, are away from home for the first time. Some will be guarding the gates unlike banks and fast food joints, the military doesn't close down completely. And some have spouses, fathers or mothers deployed overseas.

That's not to say no one will be celebrating. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are making sure their own won't be left out.

"You can't always go home to mom and dad," says Marine Gunnery Sgt. Marco Barnes, who oversees the food service facility at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I streets SE. "So we try to provide that for them here."

Each branch is planning a traditional Thanksgiving spread, with command staff and their families serving the meals.

"We're a community," says Army Master Sgt. Gerald Henderson of the command staff at Fort Myer Military Community, which includes Fort McNair. "We don't just serve the troops. Their families and many military retirees come to eat as well."

But it's clear that no matter how good the meal is, many people will be thinking of Thanksgivings past.

"At my house, Thanksgiving is bigger than Christmas," says Airman Lisa Sanders wistfully, remembering Thanksgivings in her hometown of Gainesville, Texas. "Everyone brings a dish. I love the homemade cranberry sauce. I just hope my friend who's visiting will bring something homemade."

Fellow flight member Airman Matthew Severino, also in training for the Honor Guard, is actually used to celebrating two Thanksgivings every year.

"I go to my girlfriend's house and have Thanksgiving dinner with them, and watch a little football," says the native of Bellefonte, Pa., of his pre-service Thanksgivings. "Then I go back to my house and have another dinner and watch some more football. This year, though, I'll probably be eating an Uncle Ben's Rice Bowl."

Still, being away from family for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas is a fact of life for members of the military.

"It takes some getting used to, but it's a small price to pay," says Airman Severino, who comes from a military family. "I just hope my mom and girlfriend can come down."

•••

Beyond the support of family, what helps a person make it through the rigors of military life, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving?

Teamwork, says Airman 1st Class Myers flatly. She plans to eat at the "chow hall" with most of her 14-member flight group.

"I know it's going to be hard," she says. "But it's better to be together than to be alone."

For others, it's the sense of tradition that comes with being in the service.

"Frankly, it's an honor to be standing here," says Lance Cpl. Romeo Brown, who will be manning the gate at the Marine Barracks on Thanksgiving Day. "This is the oldest Marine post in the country, and this is Post 1. When I stand here, I feel a connection to the others who have gone before."

Marines have guarded those gates since 1801, after Thomas Jefferson rode out with the second commandant, Lt. Col. William Ward Burrows, to scout a location within "easy marching distance" of the Capitol. The Barracks became home to the Marine Band, which string-lover Jefferson dubbed "the President's Own." Today additional detachments of troops provide administrative, ceremonial and infantry support in a variety of locations throughout the Washington area and overseas.

And on Thanksgiving morning, while many Washington area residents will be eschewing daily routines in favor of sleeping in or prepping the turkey, those at the Marine Barracks will be engaging in what they do every day of the year: morning colors.

At 8 o'clock every morning, Marines raise the nation's flag to the top of the flagpole on the parade ground. Everyone freezes. Conversation stops. It's a ceremony full of flash and precision, and one that goes on with or without spectators.

At that moment, Thanksgiving Day is nothing special.

But that doesn't mean those saluting aren't thinking of home.

"I miss seeing everybody grow up," confesses Lance Cpl. Robert Anderson, 19, who remembers Thanksgivings in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., with a houseful of young cousins and the scent of his mom's sweet-potato pie. "But you can't take it to heart. You try to treat it just like any other day."

Still, Lance Cpl. Anderson is exactly where he wants to be.

"I always knew I wanted to be in the military," he says. "The sacrifices are worth it."

He joined junior ROTC while still in high school. In boot camp, he was a squad leader. Now he's shooting for college.

But even for stalwart young soldiers like Lance Cpl. Anderson, who won't make it home for Christmas either, the holidays can be difficult.

"Thanksgiving is, for many of them, one of the first major holidays away from home," says Marine Capt. Fred Catchpole. "That's one reason we offer them a full spread right here at the barracks."

•••

Over at the mess hall, Gunnery Sgt. Marco Barnes has been overseeing preparation for the Thanksgiving meal, a process that begins the night before when his crew starts cutting vegetables, making pies and, of course, prepping the turkey.

"We want to make sure they're not missing much," says Gunnery Sgt. Barnes. "You can get just as good a meal here as at home."

This will be the last Thanksgiving meal actually cooked by Marines on kitchen detail. Beginning in December, kitchen duty will be turned over to a private contractor. Private contractors will also take over food preparation at the other service branches.

While Gunnery Sgt. Barnes will not actually be working on Thanksgiving Day, he plans to come in from his home in Greenbelt to spend some time at the barracks with those who are. When he leaves, he'll take a few young Marines home with him to enjoy his deep-fried turkey and oyster dressing.

"I expect to take four or five home with me," he says. "It's what we do."

That practice is common to all branches of the service. At the Navy Yard, service people who live in the area host Navy personnel who aren't able to make it home. And at Fort Myer and Fort McNair, a new program matches area families with single servicemen and servicewomen.

"It's heartwarming to see the response," says Sgt. Maj. Gerald Henderson of the Command Staff, who will also help to serve Thanksgiving dinner to troops on base. "Last year we had 14 families host 40 soldiers. This year we've grown to 50 families and more than 70 soldiers."

•••

Still, Thanksgiving can be a particularly difficult time for the families of personnel deployed overseas. At Bolling Air Force Base alone, more than 90 troops are deployed this holiday.

At the Peters house on a quiet suburban-like street on base, a paper chain is mounted on the wall. At one time, it stretched across the living room. Air Force chaplain Capt. Jason Peters made it last August, just before he left on a three-month deployment.

Every morning, before his son, Wesley, 3, and daughter Brittany, 5, settle down to read their favorite books "Corduroy" is a particular favorite right now they take down one more link on the chain.

"It's getting shorter," says Brittany with a smile, still bouncing around despite a bout with the chicken pox. "When it's all gone then my daddy will be home."

But it's not short enough to get daddy home by Thanksgiving. And now there's a new addition to the family.

"Nobody touch the baby," warns Wesley, arms outstretched protectively in front of his sleeping sister Tiffany, who is 2 months old. "I'm the man of the house now. I'm in charge."

No one expects him to carve the turkey, though. For that, the Peters family will rely on friends. They've been invited to share Thanksgiving Dinner with Maj. Richard Fogg and his wife, Judy.

"I'll probably make the stuffing and one of the sides," says Capt. Peters' wife, Kim, who relies on recipes from her mother in Wisconsin. "Mom is still the turkey hot line."

But not the only help line in this tightly knit community. E-mail keeps the family in touch: That's how they know that right now Capt. Peters is craving not turkey, but something from one of his favorite restaurants, The Cheesecake Factory.

Meanwhile, the neighbors have been pitching in regularly, baby-sitting and giving Mrs. Peters a break or two when needed.

"I'm not military, so I didn't know what to expect" when Capt. Peters was deployed, says Mrs. Peters.

"It's so nice being in a community where people know that your husband is supporting the country. It gives me a greater appreciation not only of servicemen but of the families left behind."

It is, she says, one more thing to be thankful for.


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