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Marines of Charlie Company in Afghanistan have much to be thankful for

The pot roast is frozen and the live turkeys are not fat enough. But the company's seven-month deployment is ending soon.

November 27, 2009|By Tony Perry
  • U.S. soldiers in Baraki-Barak district, Afghanistan, wait for Thanksgiving dinner. To the west in Nawa, Marine Staff Sgt. Pedro Cuadros of Azusa said, "I'm thankful for the chance to serve. I know that sounds corny."
U.S. soldiers in Baraki-Barak district, Afghanistan, wait for Thanksgiving… (Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated…)

Reporting from Nawa, Afghanistan — For the Marines of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, this Thanksgiving in Afghanistan brought one overriding thing to be thankful for: They're about to go home.

Within days, the Marines will return to Camp Pendleton after a seven-month deployment that included engaging in firefights with the Taliban, dodging roadside bombs and trying to breathe life into a moribund local government.

Although four members of the battalion have been killed in action, Charlie Company has had no fatalities.

"I'm just thankful that all my Marine brothers in Charlie Company are going home to their families," said Sgt. Sal Sanchez of Riverside, who added that his holiday thoughts were with his wife, Maggie, and their children, Brandon, 3, and Julien, 1.

Whereas Marines at smaller outposts in this onetime Taliban stronghold enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal of turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, gravy, rice and Gatorade on Thursday, here at the larger Combat Outpost Cherokee, plans for a special dinner went awry.

Three words: frozen pot roast.

A military mix-up meant that the cook was never alerted that a helicopter had brought two brick-hard, 80-pound roasts. Sgt. Sean Ross, the cook, said that by the time he was told about them, it would have taken until 1 a.m. today to thaw and cook the meal, at which time the temperature would be in the low 40s -- not especially the most festive ambience for a holiday meal.

The pot roast, Ross said, would be served today.

"I don't think people will care that much: We're still going home," Ross said, his M-16 at the ready in case Taliban fighters attempted a last-minute attack.

Although most Americans at home had the day off, Marines continued with their duties here: mentoring Afghan police, operating checkpoints, patrolling the back roads of this farming region.

The day had special resonance in a country that may soon see an influx of new troops, with President Obama expected to announce his long-awaited war strategy Tuesday.

"I'm thankful for the chance to serve. I know that sounds corny, but there's not a lot of people who can say that," said Staff Sgt. Pedro Cuadros of Azusa, lifting a 90-pound barbell as he spoke.

On Thanksgiving night, the Marines at Cherokee had a Meal Ready to Eat of chicken breast, gravy, stuffing, Mexican-style corn and double chocolate fudge cake. The lack of turkey did not appear to cause much consternation.

"At least it's not Szechwan chicken," one of the least popular MREs, said Navy Corpsman James Ruane.

Other service members, sick of MREs, "freelanced" and bought cut-up chicken at the nearby bazaar, a long city block of mud stalls with straw roofs where you can also pick up a live goat or lamb, not to mention cut-rate Viagra. (No sign of any takers among the Americans on Thursday.)

Turkeys bought weeks ago from Afghan farmers were spared their inevitable fate when judged not yet fat enough -- although one turkey at Cherokee was traded for a duck to be eaten later.

At nearby Forward Operating Base Geronimo, the battalion headquarters, Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway shared a meal with his troops and congratulated them on a job well done.

Although Charlie Company had no casualties, nearly all Marines have had friends killed, and thoughts of them are never far away.

"I'm just thankful I had a day today," Master Sgt. Julia Watson said, "because I know a lot of people who did not."

tony.perry@latimes.com

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