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This blog chronicles the experiences of Elon journalism major Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, who was deployed to the Middle East in June 2006 as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Hemmerly-Brown is from Blue Hill, Maine, and is the daughter of Jane and Daniel Hemmerly-Brown. As a public affairs specialist, Hemmerly-Brown writes stories, takes photographs, produces a newspaper and works with members of the news media. She is scheduled to be stationed in Iraq for about a year, and plans to return to her studies at Elon following her tour of duty.Messages can be sent to Alexandra at: IsisIndy@hotmail.com. Her mailing address is: Spc. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, 210th MPAD, Camp Anaconda, Balad, APO AE 09391.

[Return to Hemmerly-Brown's blog home page]

December 11, 2006


Thanksgiving in Iraq. Seems like it could be a pretty gloomy experience, depending on the circumstances. Thanksgiving is a time that should be spent with close friends and family, (and also not-so-close family that you can’t stand, but tolerate for one day of sweater-wearing and turkey-feasting). Being away from home on such a traditionalized holiday made me reflect on the comforts and niceties of home, and made me understand why the holidays are the hardest time for deployed troops.

Don’t get me wrong, I have missed Thanksgiving before. In fact this was my third year away from home. One year I was in Scotland with non-Thanksgiving-celebrating friends, where I distinctly remember eating dinner at Pizza Hut and feeling very wrong about it. Another year I was in Army training and not allowed to go home. I was allowed off the base though, and a bunch of friends and I went to the movie theatre where we saw “Alexander,” before eating at Golden Corral. Some Thanksgiving, huh?

For some reason though, this year I found myself dying to dress up in scratchy wool sweaters, shiver outside while waiting for friends to answer their doorbell, and share a stomach-stretching meal with my small family. But, given the circumstances, I would have to say I had the best Thanksgiving possible. If I had to be away from my family, this one was better than all the other missed holidays, partly because it felt like any other day.

Iraq entertainersA big tour came to the base that night: Delilah (the radio host from Delilah after dark), The New England Patriot Cheerleaders, John Popper from Blues Traveler, and country singer Jamie O’Neal. It was a pretty good concert, and the whole experience was cool because I got to cover the story, so I was with the performers for most of the day. They first stopped at the hospital here to visit wounded service members, and that is always awesome to see. Then I got to interview Delilah, John Popper and Jamie O’Neal, which was very cool. Later that night, I photographed the concert, taking about 400 photos there. It was hard work, but definitely fun, and I again felt lucky to have my job.

There was also no shortage of food for Thanksgiving. The dining facilities here really went all out to make sure each soldier and civilian on this base got their meal! They had everything from shrimp cocktail, to candied yams, to non-alcoholic eggnog. And of course pumpkin pie! The best part is that the dining facilities compete against each other with decorations for each major holiday to win a trophy. It was amazing what the cooks built: there were paper-mache soldier-statues, carved melons, towering cakes, bread sculptures, and rice tapestries. The cooks prepared for about a month in their extra time to make these decorations, and it was certainly a site to see. And of course, the candied yams were delicious.

Overall, and eventful Thanksgiving that made me sort of forget being away from home, which I think was the whole point of all the extravagantness.

Donald RumsfeldMoving on, our old friend Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Anaconda again. This time I had the pleasure of being the only Army print journalist during his short visit on our base. It was great to photograph him on his farewell tour, and I personally think it was a nice gestures on his behalf. He didn’t want a lot of press, but simply wanted to see the troops one last time while he still held his position. Very nice man. It was also exciting, because my story was one for the first ones up online, so I will be looking to see if any of the major news outlets use my story or photos.

In the world of hotel Anaconda, unfortunately we’ve had a major power outage for the past three days, and it’s likely to go on for at least two more. I believe some power lines were severed during some construction, and our housing areas have been without power. It’s dark, cold, and the showers don’t work- sounds pretty bad, huh? Well, it’s not too bad, because luckily our office still has power and I’ve been able to take a shower there. Some of my colleagues have begun to camp out on cots at the office where there is heat, but I’m just too lazy or stubborn to move all my stuff, so I continue to retreat to my freezing, dark trailer and wrap up in my Army weather-all sleeping bag…that thing rocks.

For now we might be “roughing it,” but whatever happens here, I always know there are soldiers fighting in this country who are living in far worse conditions than I. I am continually thankful for where I am, and for the luxuries of running water and hot showers…it could be so much worse.