Michael P. Noonan is the director of the program on national security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Six years ago I celebrated Thanksgiving on a small Iraqi base in western Ninewa province. Nearly halfway through my year-long tour on that day me and 9 other members of the military transition team I served with (one man was home on leave) settled in to watch a game of football. No, not the Cowboys or the Lions. In this case it was a soccer match between the young members of an American cavalry troop who were co-located with us at the time and ringers from the Iraqi battalion. Final score, 1st Battalion: 20, B Troop: 2. Or something like that. (The energy and fitness of the young troopers could not overcome the superior passing skills and finesse of the Iraqis.)
The weather in the high desert was changing from the arid heat to the cooler fall. We sat down that afternoon to a meal of hot, or at least warmish, and plentiful "A" rations of some form of pressed turkey loaf and fixings. This certainly was not the feasts available on some of the larger American and coalition forward operating bases throughout the country, and certainly was not as joyous an occasion as being surrounded by friends and family and favorite foods and beverages as available back here in the United States, but in retrospect it was quite good. It certainly was much better than what I am sure some soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines will be having tomorrow in remote combat outposts in Afghanistan. The fellowship of being surrounded by fellow soldiers, American and Iraqi, made the circumstances of being so far from home in a war zone bearable.
So on this Thanksgiving I say we give thanks for many things, even though individual circumstances may dictate the depth of our thanks. But collectively we Americans should be thankful for living in a country where violence and intimidation are not the norms for resolving political differences. Sure, we just exited from a contentious presidential election. And yes there was some hyperventilation about the results from some quarters (just as there was following the 2000 and 2004 elections) and the economy continues to sputter along, but we do live in a country where the deliberate, indiscriminate use of explosives or mass violence to systematically target to kill people simply due to their race, ethnicity, religion, or creed is not the norm. Yes, tragic incidents occur from time to time, but their rarity makes their occurrence all the more shocking.
We should also give thanks to the men and women of the armed forces and other members of the U.S. government and supporting contracting personnel who are separated from friends and family and are providing for the common defense and the advancement of U.S. interests abroad, whether they be in war zones or not. We hope to see you back home soon. For those in harm's way be as safe as the mission allows.