We actually celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, on Wednesday, instead of today. Don’t ask me why, this is Afghanistan, and these things happen, often without explanation (at least, not to us). I’m sure it was related to how many remote FOBs like ours there are in our AO, but again, this is speculation on my part.
Notwithstanding the wrong day, I have to admit our Thanksgiving was pretty good. The 82nd Airborne flew us in baked turkey, smoked turkey, prime rib, baked ham, and all the trimmings, including (of course) mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, dressing, and several varieties of desserts. We also had non-alcoholic wine (a sort of bubbly grape juice – it tasted good, but like the non-alcoholic beer we have over here, it’s something of a poor substitute for the real thing), since no alcohol is allowed anywhere here, but this beverage fit the spirit of the day.
The Brigade Commander flew in as well, and spent a half hour talking to the troops. He’s a full Colonel, and has been on many deployments, but he said some rather surprising things. He spoke of how one day in the future, the Soldiers would be able to tell their grandchildren how they had been in the “big war” of our time, and how they helped build a nation where there had not been one before. He said that would be a much better tale to tell than one of having killed 50 enemy combatants, even though most of the Soldiers would likely prefer to have that tale to tell.
He also said we are following the right strategy, focusing on building up the Afghan country rather than trying to prosecute a “normal” war. The Colonel said he spoke from experience, and said this was truly the best strategy to use to win. I found these comments extremely interesting, coming as they were from a senior Army officer who had many years of experience, both on and off the field of battle, who probably reflects the current thinking in Washington vis-à-vis the Department of the Army. If he said this is the direction to take, he is probably following these same orders.
Of course, I agree with him, but this strategy takes time and patience, on all sides. I see impatience everywhere, in everyone: back home with voters who are used to seeing problems resolved almost magically by the end of a two-hour movie or 30-minute sitcom, here in Afghanistan by Afghans who want roads, schools, clinics and electricity right now (despite not being secure from Taliban elements who would blow these up immediately), and even in the Army, among junior Soldiers who prefer battle action against identified enemies to working steadily on building relationships with local villagers. It’s slow work, more related to police work than normal warfare, but like the Colonel, I believe in the long run it’s the best policy to follow.
During our celebratory meal, we had the ABP as our guests. I had told them about how Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, celebrated by every faith among all Americans. I told them of the Pilgrims’ celebration of thanks for surviving their first harsh winter, and how it evolved to the national holiday proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln. We had the ABP commander sit at our table, and we served the remaining police from our serving line. To my knowledge, they had never eaten some of the foods we served them, and they ate greedily, heartily enjoying the dinner. It was a very gratifying moment for me, and reminded me a little perhaps of the Pilgrims’ feast with the Native Americans on that first Thanksgiving.
Later that night, as we prepared to go to bed, tired and still full from the meal, “Major Tom” told me of how Army Special Forces had found and neutralized Taliban elements in the mountains we had traveled searching for them. We had not found them, but Special Forces had. “Major Tom” shared this with me, in light of the Colonel’s speech – we have not had the “sexy” operations in this theater, but our role has been effective, and other Army units have been able to “piggyback” off our missions. I was happy to hear this news – I had felt we had unfinished business in that area, and now I hear that others have finished what we had started. This was good news to me. It means the Afghans in that area will not have to continue living in fear of the thugs that take their food and livelihood, and can now fully embrace their own government freely. While we had not fully finished the job, we started it, and found where the Taliban had been hiding. I felt like we had accomplished something, after all.
I suppose I learned something with this news, too: trust the results to higher powers. Of course, on Thanksgiving, one thinks about God being a higher power, but as a double entendre, the Army has higher powers (i.e., one’s higher chain of command), and a Soldier must often trust the Army to follow up and finish the work started. For a Christian, in a sense, this is simultaneously both working together, God working on behalf of truth and justice in world events, using the US Army as an agent to effect change. (See Romans 12 for more on how God can use world powers to effect a righteous outcome.)
So now I had something else to be thankful for. Last Sunday, I urged those Soldiers attending our little church service to take some time to write down the blessings of God for which they were thankful. I will take my own advice here, and create a personal list:
My father and mother
My church family
Our system of government
Good food to enjoy
Good music to hear
Beautiful scenic views to see
Companionship and camaraderie
My thoughts and feelings
Freedom of choice
Freedom of worship
And most important of all, Jesus.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.