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story.lead_photo.caption Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the White House in February 2018.

Thousands of American troops spent Thanksgiving deployed to the U.S. border with Mexico, joining fellow service members overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere who marked the holiday away from loved ones -- a familiar fact of life for those who serve.

At Camp Donna, the military's temporary border base in southern Texas, video released by the Defense Department showed soldiers in chow hall tents carving turkeys and piling holiday meals onto plastic trays under overcast skies. Some troops along the border recorded video messages for their families back home -- the kind of greetings typically sent from overseas.

The Pentagon shipped out more than 300,000 pounds of traditional Thanksgiving food, including 9,738 whole turkeys, to those stationed and deployed around the globe. A total of 799 pounds of turkey went to troops serving on the border in southern Texas.

Like many of the Pentagon's initiatives, the Thanksgiving rollout was an affair of giant scale: 51,234 pounds of roasted turkey, 16,284 pounds of sweet potatoes, 81,360 pies, 19,284 cakes and 7,836 gallons of eggnog. Forces around the world received the goods through the vast military supply chain that keeps those serving in combat equipped with medicine, food and more.

"Many of America's military men and women are away from home this Thanksgiving, making sacrifices to secure our freedom and to protect our southern border," Army Brig. Gen. Mark Simerly, the commander of troop support for the Defense Logistics Agency, said in a statement. He said the military was providing them "the very best Thanksgiving meal our country has to offer."

A spokesman for U.S. Army North, which oversees the Army's part of the deployment, said that Thursday would be a "light-duty day" for troops deployed along the border, meaning they would be asked to do little, if any, work. No troops had been sent home to their regular duty stations or moved among the border mission sites, she said.

Many bases host traditional Thanksgiving meals in their dining halls. Those deployed farther afield often find more-creative ways to celebrate, whether that means frying a turkey on a combat outpost in Afghanistan or eating Thanksgiving dinner on a submarine.

Often a select few get treated to meals with senior leaders, who typically visit the troops on Thanksgiving and Christmas as a show of thanks for their sacrifice. President George W. Bush famously flew into Iraq under the cover of night to mark Thanksgiving with the troops in 2003, months after the invasion.

The tradition of making sure that forces deployed over the Thanksgiving holiday receive their turkey dates back decades. The Pentagon supplied turkey and cranberry sauce to troops serving overseas during World War II. The tradition followed in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of the troops deployed to the border in Texas marked Thanksgiving in place, with the turkey sent over by the Pentagon. Others deployed to California and Arizona will go to military bases near their border outposts to celebrate the holiday, according to a spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency.

As he did last year, Trump spent part of Thanksgiving at a Coast Guard station in south Florida, shaking hands and posing for photos.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, who spent more than four decades in uniform in the Marine Corps, said the possibility of forces spending Thanksgiving on the border comes with the territory.

"We're a 365-day-a-year military. Rain or shine, light or dark, cold weather or hot weather -- we have an all-weather force that's on duty 24/7," Mattis said during a recent trip to Texas. "Drive around the Pentagon on Thanksgiving Day and look at the number of cars in the parking lot of people who work right through the holidays."

A Section on 11/23/2018

Print Headline: Troops at border, abroad sent Thanksgiving meals

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  • RBear
    November 23, 2018 at 6:30 a.m.

    These troops are not needed at the border and, in an attempt to ramp up the rhetoric, the WH issues orders authorizing actions which may violate Posee Comitatus. The orders were designed to amplify the "crisis" since Trump has been taking flack for sending them to the border. These troops at the border could have been spending time at home with their families. Instead, Trump played with his "toy soldiers" before the mid-terms to create a "crisis" for voters to act on.

  • 23cal
    November 23, 2018 at 7:38 a.m.

    I'm sure they would have preferred to be with their families at Thanksgiving instead of being played as pawns for a purely political stunt.

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