Fourteen years ago, The Gazette invited community members to be part of a Thanksgiving group photo greeting for Montana National Guardsmen deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and elsewhere.
One hundred ten people gathered on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving 2004 in the MetraPark Expo Center where General Manager Bill Dutcher had suspended a giant U.S. Flag from the high ceiling. Local military members, family and friends, parents, grandparents, kids and neighbors of all ages squeezed together for group photos. One shot was printed on Thanksgiving Day’s opinion page. Photographer James Woodcock claimed it was the largest group photo ever made by a Gazette staffer. Photos were posted on The Gazette webpage and the Montana National Guard notified deployed guard units that the holiday greetings were sent to them.
Back then, most U.S. troops didn’t have personal access to email when serving in the Mideast. Smartphones weren’t widely available and Facebook had barely started up. So The Gazette tried to help the community send Thanksgiving greetings.
In the fall of 2004, about 1,100 Montana National Guard members were deployed.
On Thanksgiving Day 2018, Montanans are still in harm’s way, answering the call to defend U.S. interests far from home. Now the total is closer to 100. More than 60 members of the 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion are on a year-long deployment to Afghanistan and scheduled to return home next summer. Thirty-four Montana airmen drawn from the Air Guard’s 120th Airlift Wing and the 219th RED HORSE Squadron are deployed with various U.S. Air Force units in Southwest Asia, Africa and Antarctica, according to Master Sgt. Michael Touchette in Helena. (The South Pole mission involves a weather station.) These units have members from all across Montana.
That means families in many communities are missing loved ones this holiday because they are in war zones where there is no real break from duty. There is no safe place off base for U.S. soldiers deployed in Afghanistan where this nation has been at war along with coalition partners since October 2001. The U.S. still has forces in Iraq, which this nation invaded in 2003.
If you say grace at your Thanksgiving meal table today, remember to add a prayer for U.S. troops – National Guard, reserves and regular active-duty airmen, sailors, marines and soldiers.
Remember, these Americans volunteered to serve. We should all be thankful for their courage and their service.
Those of us enjoying a safe and bountiful Montana Thanksgiving Day, are also called to serve. We can’t all join the military, but everyone can contribute to make our families, communities, state and nation strong and healthy. Today, runners will fill a street in downtown Billings to have some fun while also raising funds for Family Service Inc., Backpack Meals for Kids, Meals on Wheels and the Yellowjacket Emergency Pantry at Montana State University Billings.
The Montana Rescue Mission will serve delicious dinners to all who come into the shelter on Minnesota Avenue. The Billings Food Bank invites the community to a free chef-prepared, volunteer-served meal at 2112 Fourth Avenue North from 11 a.m. till 4 p.m. The Chefs and Cooks of Montana donated their time to expertly bake about 90 turkeys earlier this week at the Food Bank. Those birds are being served at the Rescue Mission and Food Bank today.
The helping organizations participating in Thanksgiving Day events need support all year long. Please consider what you can do with your time and talent to help on any of the other 364 days in the year. Among the many things to be thankful for today, the gift of being able to give should be high on the list of those who have the privilege of volunteering and donating.
Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for being Gazette readers.