Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks in Kandahar

L-R: SSG Erik Winters, horn; SPC Jesse Holmes, tuba; SPC James Leggett and SPC Joshua Rux, trumpets; SSG David Proctor, trombone
Today the United States observes its Thanksgiving holiday, and for the American Soldiers at Kandahar Air Field the holiday was a welcome change from the normal workday. For those of us in the 10th Mountain Division Band, it was a great opportunity to use our skills to boost the morale of the troops. My brass quintet (informally dubbed "The Bunker Brass") started the day by playing at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service at one of the chapels. Though not a formal "church service," this event involved several American chaplains (and, surprisingly, a couple of British chaplains too!) speaking, reading scriptures, and leading songs about being thankful.

As soon as the service was over, we threw our instruments, music, and stands into a truck and headed over to the nearby Niagara Dining Facility, which typically serves "American" food and displays American programming on the TV screens (usually sports, which to my interest included a Pre-Season NIT basketball game between Virginia Commonwealth University and my alma mater, the 24th-ranked University of Tennessee). The building was set aside for Thanksgiving lunch, and already a very, very long line was waiting to get in. We walked in through an exit--the easiest way to get in--and set up along the back wall so we could play some music to entertain the lunch crowd. Our set this time consisted of a wide variety of selections, with an emphasis on fun, upbeat music: "Ain't Misbehavin," "The Pink Panther," "Satin Doll," "The Colonel Bogey March," "The Beer-Barrel Polka," and "Cartoon Symphony," a collection of themes from shows like "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "Animaniacs," "The Flintstones," and "The Jetsons." Even though we like to classify these types of performances as "music to be ignored by," or perhaps "innocuous enough to not be annoying," many in the crowd seemed to appreciate having some live music to make the day a little more festive. Many also stopped by to get pictures of the group. We made sure to have our pictures taken by the ice sculptures that were placed in the center of the hall as decoration.

Between sets, we were able to get lunch. The food line today was not manned by the typical facility employees, but by members of the US Navy, and rather than the normal menu, they had traditional Thanksgiving food: turkey, dressing, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, etc. And it was delicious! I decided that oversleeping a little and thus having only a couple of strawberry Pop-Tarts (courtesy of a care package!) for breakfast was a good thing, as I had plenty of room to eat a lot for lunch. It wasn't like being home with family, but it was certainly more enjoyable than a typical lunch here. Afterward, as we were loading the truck, a somewhat elderly civilian in a red plaid shirt and with a grey-ish beard walked out and thanked us for playing, prompting SPC Holmes to comment, "Hey, that's nice, we play for Thanksgiving and get thanked by Santa Claus!"

As one of our other band members who joined us for lunch mentioned, the band is our family right now, and even when we get on each other's nerves we can still sit back and enjoy a meal and be thankful that we have each other and that we have a mission of bringing music to other members of the Armed Forces. And I am thankful that I have so many friends and family members back home who have been so supportive during these first weeks of our deployment here.

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