Thanksgiving is a time to look back on the year gone by and reflect what you are thankful for. Thankfulness can come in many forms–having a new job, being able to provide for your family, or keeping friendships alive. For Americans, we have an extra reason to be thankful. Men and women in uniform working overseas and domestically make it possible for us to live in a free country.

For those who are overseas during the Thanksgiving holiday, the feeling can be bittersweet. Some are in war-torn areas fighting the enemy and most are away from the comforts of home and their families. There have been 152 recognized Thanksgiving holidays since its inception and despite being in unfamiliar territory, the armed forces have tried to make Thanksgiving as normal as possible for those deployed.

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Even though the first nationally recognized Thanksgiving was not observed by the military because of a shortage of resources, over the years, there has been a push to have a Thanksgiving meal, regardless of where a service member is stationed. This food is usually gathered starting in May and sent out with the temperature-controlled food taking up to three months to reach its destination.

According to the Department of Defense, this is how much food was shipped out to various military bases across the world to prepare for a Thanksgiving feast last year:

  • 51,699 pounds of turkey
  • 25,970 pounds of beef
  • 17,130 pounds of ham
  • 706 gallons of eggnog
  • 3,360 pounds of marshmallows

That is the equivalent to:

  • 17 adult female hippos
  • 14 1/2 Smart cars
  • 24 male zebras
  • 45 1/2 full kegs of beer
  • 122 gold bars

The gathering of food doesn’t just stop at traditional holiday fare either. The Oak Lawn Park district in Illinois held its 6th annual Treats for Troops drive to send leftover and extra Halloween candy to those serving overseas.

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While having a hot dinner can help stave off the feeling of homesickness during the holiday season, physically being with family and friends can make the holidays that much better. Spencer Girard, a seaman stationed in Norfolk, VA won a “Happy ThanksGathering” lottery to be the only person out of all the sailors and Marines stationed to be reunited with his family for the holiday. Katherine Girard said she hadn’t seen her son in a year and a half and being with him for the holidays last November was extra special, “The way they did it was just … oh my goodness. I didn’t know Norfolk was the world’s largest naval station, but you see when you get there. They spent a huge amount of money to treat everyone to a great Thanksgiving.”

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On November 5, 2016, in the Albuquerque Convention Center while being welcomed back with the 126th Military Police Company from the Middle East, Specialist Rene Lopez held her daughter Amaya as her husband Specialist Jassen Lopez looked on. The couple were deployed to Kuwait together and left their four children, ages 3 to 8, in the care of family.

“Thanksgiving has come early to the people of the state of New Mexico,” Brigadier General Andy Salas, the state Guard’s adjutant general, told the crowd. The 120 soldiers who performed custom inspections-type work in maritime ports and airports across different parts of the Middle East wasn’t due back to the United States until January.

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Kristen Smith, an Army wife, understands the changing nature of spending the holidays with someone in the military. Last year, she recalled how different the past 11 Thanksgivings have been with, and without, her husband. Thanksgiving celebrations varied greatly from sitting on the couch with her son watching movies to finally having her husband home last year for a “shockingly normal holiday.” For Smith, having such different variations of celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday has helped her be grateful in a way that she “could never have understood 12 years ago.”

During this holiday season, and every season, we are thankful for the work our troops do overseas so we can enjoy the freedom we have today. The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to assisting veterans in all aspects of their lives, including helping those who are in need of assistance while transitioning home from the battlefield. You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.

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