Marines' Thanksgiving wish: 'Hot chow'

In remote western Iraq, marines say anything but an MRE.

There's a rumor circulating among the marines of the 2/6 that "hot chow" is coming.

The fervor with which marines here talk of the possibility of a hot meal - roasted turkey, steaming stuffing, and tart cranberry sauce - being delivered to their sandy, remote outpost in Iraq's Anbar Province from the nearest base for Thanksgiving is understandable, especially when you taste what they've been eating.

There are stacks of Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) around but most marines can't bear to even look at them. They've already spent months eating Country Captain Chicken and Vegetable Manicotti from hermetically sealed brown plastic bags. Inside: "wheat snack bread," "jalapeño cheese spread," or "pumpkin pound cake."

But few of the marines here of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment were even aware that Thanksgiving was approaching until asked by this reporter.

Capt. Brendan Heatherman had just finished a long morning of raids, jumping rock walls, and racing through houses looking for insurgents. "It's in two days? Man, snuck up on me," he said, incredulous.

Standing next to him in a dim room constructed of rocks and cement, Capt. Conlon Carabine of East Hampton, N.Y., was equally confused. "When is Thanksgiving? Two days?"

It's easy to lose track of time here.

They fought their way west to east through three towns along the Euphrates River near the Syrian border early this month. Now, the marines are responsible for security detail in the towns, some of which haven't had a military presence in a year.

They run patrols on foot and sit in humvees 24 hours a day and race out on raids, following tips on insurgent movement.

Back at base, they have no running water or electricity. They live in giant metal containers and sleep on wooden bunks they built themselves.

Captain Carabine is considered fortunate because his camp already had one half-built rock and a cement structure when his group arrived. Now it serves as the headquarters.

If the turkey and stuffing doesn't arrive, Captain Heatherman's company has already a contingency plan - a local turkey farmer. "The Iraqi [soldiers] say they'll [cook] it, and we've got some guys from down south who know how to clean it and have already volunteered their services," says 1st Sgt. William Thurber of Manchester, N.H.

He pauses. "I didn't realize it was in two days," he muses.

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