A soldier's Thanksgiving
It's been weeks since I have submitted an entry. I have been very busy, and the end of our mission here in Afghanistan is in sight.
Our successors from the Illinois Army National Guard's 33rd Brigade Combat Team are beginning to arrive here at Camp Phoenix and we are conducting the hand off of responsibilities known as Relief in Place - or RIP.
With Thanksgiving arriving tomorrow I have given thought to the many things that I am grateful for, not the least of which is the prospect of coming home in the not too distant future.
I am extremely grateful that I have had the honor and the privilege to serve in the New York Army National Guard for 31 years and was deployed to Afghanistan with friends and comrades, some of whom I have known for many years.
Our mission in Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VII has been a tremendous personal opportunity and both a life and a learning revelation at many levels. I have only a few years left in the Guard before retirement, and I look at this mission and the total experience as a professional "capstone" for my service. I have seen, felt and lived a lot over the last year, not including all the training and preparation that I underwent in 2007 before I was deployed.
I am very thankful for my wife - the one person who was always meant for me and who has stood by me and "us" through this period. Though separated by a tremendous distance - half a globe apart - we have approached this deployment and withstood it as a partnership. She has truly supported my service and me. I couldn't have done what I have been doing over here without her backing and personal support.
I am grateful to family members, friends and neighbors who have helped my wife at home in my absence and sent messages of support my way. Their efforts are deeply appreciated and have made a big difference to me.
I am grateful for the team I served with here each day and the new friends and comrades I have made as we worked together. They are my "battle buddies," and this relationship will last long after we are home.
I am grateful to have been able to witness the courage, determination and dedication of so many soldiers and have been able to write about them in some of my previous submissions.
I am grateful to have been given the honor to speak through the written word, by voice, by photos and by video to Americans back home about the dedicated service of men and women, doing the nation's business and trying to help the oppressed and impoverished people of Afghanistan.
America's future certainly depends on the development and education of more civilian professionals in the many technical and service fields. I pray our nation never stops also producing dedicated men and women with the "Warrior Spirit" who will secure and protect our democracy from the enemies of freedom, justice and peace. They are not costumed superheroes; they are common people with great hearts and a willingness to take personal responsibility for the nation's defense.
I am grateful to have known great and good men who have given their lives for our nation over here and to have been able to stand with other comrades to commemorate their lives and service from the combat zone.
I am grateful to the many people back home who send greetings, messages of support and donations to help us in our humanitarian support operations over here (A reporter was among many who sent a box of school supplies and personal hygiene items that we can give to Afghan children).
I am grateful to know and to have worked with some truly outstanding journalists who have come to Afghanistan to cover our mission and inform the American and other publics though accurate, skillful and objective reports. I am also grateful to many news organizations in New York, including the Daily Gazette, which have sought and conducted interviews by phone and e-mail, published photos and blog submissions and helped remind the public that we are here serving the nation.
I am grateful that I have been given the chance to serve in a combat zone with an historic New York command and now wear the Orion patch on my right shoulder as my "combat patch."
I am grateful that upon my return I will be considered a "veteran," as was my late father, who served in Europe in World War II.
I am grateful to the American people for the incredible display of patriotism through the conduct of the democratic process during the recently completed election. It was a tremendous example and signal sent to the world and to America's servicemen and women abroad, who are pledged to serve and protect the Constitution. As a serviceman, I walked a little taller the morning after the election. Despite our many challenges at home, its also reassuring to hear about the transition process under way before the inauguration of the next Commander in Chief.
And, I am grateful to have been born an American, a New Yorker and have been raised in the Capital Region. I am extremely fortunate. Coming here to Afghanistan has been a humbling and yet fulfilling experience. I hope that someday the people here will be able to live in peace, with security and prosperity - knowing that it will take a long time to achieve.
My experience here and my personal knowledge of America's own history helps me appreciate how far we as a nation have come thanks to the service and contributions of military, government and private persons who have devoted their lives to defending, growing, educating and developing the America we know today.
Lt. Col. Paul Fanning is submitting photos to accompany this blog in a gallery, "Pictures from the Front." To view the gallery, click here.