KUWAITI DESERT - Try as they might, the Army's Thanksgiving Day in the desert just wasn't home.
No matter that commanding officers served turkey, dressing and all the traditional side dishes to the troops.
Never mind that paper decorations of leaves and turkeys hung on the walls. Forget the fact that soldiers drank nonalcoholic beer or sipped sparkling cider from plastic champagne flutes.
It still didn't compare to being home with family.
"I've had a rough time because I'm used to being home at Thanksgiving," said Spc. Lakeesha Wilson, 23, of Detroit. "I miss my mom and my sister and my brothers."
Spc. Wilson is one of more than 4,000 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who deployed to Kuwait for a training mission called Operation Desert Spring. During their six-month stay, soldiers also will be away from home for Christmas and New Year's Day.
Missing important holidays and family events such as birthdays and anniversaries is a common story among soldiers, said Spc. Dameian Clarke, 23, of Brooklyn, who has missed his daughter's two birthdays because of deployments.
Still, 3rd Division commanders tried to make the best of the holiday. They let soldiers take a break from desert warfare training. They held a 5K race in the morning and handed out trophies and T-shirts. Some soldiers played football or basketball. Others caught up on sleep or called home to speak with their families.
For some, Thanksgiving didn't start out so well.
About 75 soldiers were stranded at Camp Doha, a military base outside Kuwait City, when no one scheduled buses to take them to their encampment, less than 20 miles from the Iraq border.
There was one bus, but they needed two more to fill out the convoy. Pfc. David Lauderman and Spc. Lance Yost took refuge from the chilly air inside the bus, and they realized at about 2 a.m. that it was Thanksgiving.
"It's Thanksgiving, dude," Pfc. Lauderman said. "Close your eyes and dream."
"I am dreaming," Spc. Yost replied. "I'm dreaming this gum tastes like cranberry, turkey, pumpkin pie. But it just tastes minty."
Staff Sgt. Gannon Edgy was one of the stranded soldiers. He spent the morning unloading equipment before finally taking a short nap. By supper, Sgt. Edgy was so tired he could hardly hold a conversation.
"It doesn't feel like Thanksgiving," he said.
Even with the fatigue and homesickness, Spc. Clarke appreciated that commanders gave soldiers a break and tried to make it seem like a holiday.
"It's not home," Spc. Clarke said. "But we came to do a job, and it's the price we've got to pay. We suck it up and drive on."