Thanksgiving 2004 was the most memorable Thanksgiving I've ever had.  It didn't involve family, turkey, or football.  It was the kind of Thanksgiving that I'll never have to experience again, but unfortunately many men and women will.

The first day I stepped foot in Baghdad, Iraq was Thursday, November 25, 2004.  Thanksgiving Day.  Armed with my M16 and almost 40 lbs. of Kevlar, I was 24 years old and the most unsure I'd ever been in my life. For two weeks before, I was in Kuwait waiting for transport to meet up with my unit that was already settled in Baghdad.  After days of traveling and having absolutely no idea what to expect, I was led to the D-Fac (dining facility, also known as the chow hall, mess hall, etc.) for dinner.

It was the first real holiday I would spend away from my young children, just 2 and 4 when I was deployed, and my emotions were all over the place.  I don't remember the food, (I'm pretty sure I ate turkey...or did I?) or who I sat with.  But I do remember looking around at all the men and women from every branch of service, every rank, and from many different countries, (for them Thanksgiving was just another day) eating their "Thanksgiving dinner."  I remember feeling overcome with a sense of belonging.  A feeling of being a part of a huge family, even though I was thousands of miles away from mine.  It was a feeling I'll never forget.  Knowing that I couldn't feel sorry for myself, because everyone else was also thousands of miles away from their families.  Knowing that we were there for a reason--our country--and we were all in it together.

It's easy to get caught up in daily life and forget what it's like for those overseas.  We may gripe about spending the entire day with our crazy families.  But I know so many that would love to have that be the biggest problem.

Around this time every year I think about that Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful for the time I spent in the military.  I'm thankful for those that served before me, those who lost their lives for our country, and those who will fight for us in the future.  I'm thankful for the friends and family that supported me and my kids while I was deployed.  I'm thankful for our freedom.  Though the history of Thanksgiving Day is a debate on whether or not Columbus truly "discovered" our country when there were obviously people already inhabiting the land--we still celebrate Thanksgiving as a day to be thankful for the things in our lives.  Things we often take for granted.  I'm thankful for my family, my friends, and my freedom.