Thanksgiving dinners with all the fixings have been sent to American soldiers in Syria.
These soldiers are not the ones who were fighting alongside the Kurds to crush ISIS. President Trump suddenly ordered them withdrawn last month.
Instead, the turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie will go to the U.S. troops who have since been deployed by Trump into Syria with a new official mission.
“They were sent to bolster defenses near oil fields in Deir ez-Zor, Syria,” an Army press release stated.
The apparent intent is to deny the oil to ISIS, and to the coalition of Syrian government soldiers and Russian mercenaries who tried to seize these same fields from a contingent of American Delta Force operators in February. The Kurds have been trying to keep the oil flowing by bringing in local investors only for ISIS to shake them down with threats to burn the fields. The U.S. is not taking in any revenue, though Trump has mused otherwise.
“What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly… and spread out the wealth,” Trump has said.
Eighteen Thanksgivings into our two longest wars, we have soldiers guarding oil.
That from a president who has so often said he wants to bring our troops home from the endless wars.
The first Thanksgiving dinner of the conflict was 80 days after the 9/11 attacks. Turkey that seemed the best that their Navy hosts could manage was served to members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea.
“At least they tried,” recalls James Brower, then a 20-year-old Lance Corporal.
After the dinner, the Marines were issued a “warning order” that they would be going into Afghanistan. They spent the night drilling, and that weekend they flew 400 miles hoping to bring justice to those who had murdered nearly 3,000 people.
“I’ll be in Afghanistan for about two months through Xmas,” James wrote in a card to his family back in Staten Island. “We will be doing raids and going through caves and mountains looking for bad guys.”
What followed seemed at the start to be as simple a good guy vs. bad guy fight as when it was us against the Nazis. There was even dialogue that rang with World War II bravado.
“Son, do you have a Bible in that foxhole?” a chaplain asked Brower.
“No, padre, but I got a shit load of ammo,” Brower replied.
All that began to change when we began speaking of “enemy combatants” rather than murderers and lost focus on the perpetrators of 9/11. President Bush and his gang then used the threat of terrorism as a pretext to go into Iraq. More than a few people thought that expanding the conflict had less to do with the blood of innocents than it did with oil.
To his credit, Trump opposed the war in Iraq after those first jingoistic days of Shock and Awe. He did subsequently say that we should have at least taken its oil as we left.
“I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil,” he tweeted in 2013.
His views regarding the spoils of victory came into play again after ISIS was driven from the oil fields in Syria. You have to wonder if the military played on this to convince him to send other troops in following the sudden withdrawal.
Trump was then able to proclaim of the oil, “We have taken it and secured it.”
The military was able to use the new troops not just to guard the oil but also to resume joint operations with the Kurds against ISIS.
“Over the next days and weeks, the pace will pick back up against remnants of ISIS,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the Central Command, told reporters on Saturday.
Beyond the loss of trust in America, all that really changed was that the U.S. soldiers in Syria this Thanksgiving are elements of the Army National Guard’s 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team (30ABCT), which had already been slated for deployment to Kuwait. The soldiers sent on into Syria included a detachment from brigade headquarters as well as the 4th Battalion 118th Infantry Regiment and 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
A spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) assured a porter earlier this week that none of the 170,000 U.S. troops presently deployed across the world had been forgotten as 4,925 whole turkeys were shipped out, along with 66,741 pounds of roasted turkey, 80,546 pounds of beef, 43,648 pounds of ham, 44,384 pounds of shrimp, 27,605 pounds of sweet potatoes, 39,797 pies, 7,032 cakes and 5,804 gallons of eggnog. The spokesman said that the 18 Thanksgivings at war have enabled the DLA to better serve that part of the world.
“I think it definitely got better over time,” the spokesman said. “We got to know the region better.”
Chief Warrant Officer Holly Hommel, who runs food services for the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, confirmed on Wednesday that it had received plenty of turkeys, though they were definitely on the small side.
“Instead of the big ones, they gave us a lot of little ones,” she said.
But the 50-year-old soldier seemed determined to look on the bright side.
“They’ll cook a little faster,” she said.
Even on her third deployment in war that seems to have no end, Hommel sounded as spirited as Brower had been back at that first Thanksgiving in 2001. She said she had started out as a cook, but now oversees those who are preparing this year’s feast.
“They say they have a few surprises up their sleeve,” she said.
Hommel said she is also remotely supervising via Facebook group chat the holiday preparations back home in North Carolina. She would normally be the one cooking and organizing.
“Thanksgiving’s my thing, and Christmas,” she said. “Me and my mother.”
She added, “My not being there, they’ll have to step up to the plate.”
She said she was taking a little time out on Wednesday from overseeing the cooking for the brigade and coaching the cooking back home to wrap some more Christmas presents. She already sent some out on Tuesday.
“They say it takes two to three weeks,” she said.
She did not volunteer any thoughts she might have about spending the holiday protecting oil. She was cheerfully doing her duty as a soldier far from home and it was a moment to talk turkey in only the most literal sense.
Our duty is to be thankful we have gallant soldiers, and to ask ourselves how they are still in harm’s way after 18 years, now guarding oil.