By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Family is one thing two soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division learned not to take for granted while they were in Iraq, a lesson they continued to learn as they had Thanksgiving dinner without their loved ones on Wednesday.
But an Army tradition of officers and senior noncommissioned officers wearing dress uniforms and serving dinner to junior-ranked soldiers made them smile.
"It feels like we really are part of the team," said Pvt. Jeremy Zaragoza, who returned from a year in Iraq last week. "It feels like we are appreciated."
Zaragoza and Pfc. James Edwards, who both serve with the 4th Infantry's 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, had not experienced the tradition of their superiors serving them and thought it was "odd," Zaragoza said.
The 2nd Brigade's commander, Col. John Tully, was among the leaders who participated. Tully recently returned from Iraq and said he gave up his family time to be with the soldiers because "that's what you do in the Army.
"It's important to respect traditions and keep them alive and well," Tully said. "Thanksgiving is good timing to make it back and a good opportunity to count our blessings."
While the entire 2nd Brigade has returned from the Middle East, except for a handful of soldiers who are loading ships, the leaders who participated were mindful that more than half of the 4th Infantry remains deployed and many of their neighbors across post – including the 1st Cavalry Division, III Corps headquarters and separate brigades, many of Fort Hood's airmen and a third of the 13th Sustainment Command – are deployed as well.
"We have a lot to be thankful for," said 1st Sgt. Otis Pate, who served lunch to his comrades. "We just completed another tour. It's not too fun to be over there during Thanksgiving or during Thanksgiving and Christmas like some (Fort Hood) soldiers have to do."
Some leaders enjoyed the opportunity to thank soldiers for what they do.
"It's always a good opportunity to serve soldiers who are serving our country," said Capt. Jeffrey Jordan, rear commander of the 4th Infantry's Division Special Troops Battalion.
While the soldiers who received lunch were cheered up by being served, they were honest about missing their families.
"It's great to have a good meal, but family is family," Edwards said.
Both Edwards and Zaragoza are looking forward to joining their families in a few days for a monthlong vacation and Christmas.
Contact Emily Baker at email@example.com