By John Byrnes

We’ve all seen the pictures of troops deployed during the holidays – makeshift centerpieces, an attempt at Thanksgiving dinner and, if the soldiers are lucky, a football game. Top brass may come in to give a speech and sometimes a president will travel to show support for those missing home.

But these scenes don’t show the whole picture. For most on deployment, holidays are often just regular days. Troops still have jobs to do because combat doesn’t take days off.

I was stationed at Forward Operation Base O’Ryan during Thanksgiving 2004. Rather than relaxing on the couch and sharing a meal with my family, I woke up at 3 a.m. and went to work. I spent most of the day on a raid tracking down and capturing two insurgents fleeing the second battle of Fallujah.

After 12 long hours, my platoon returned to the FOB for something like a Thanksgiving meal. We were as disappointed by the turkey as we thought we’d be, but our families had sent extra food to make the holiday feel a little more special. Those gifts from home seemed small, but they meant the world to us.

Though that Thanksgiving was difficult, I ate my lackluster meal with a sense of pride and peace. My platoon and company mates all sat safe around the table. Our families had supplemented our field rations with plenty of treats from home. Our successful mission meant American soldiers and Iraqi civilians were safer that night.

Mine is one of thousands of similar stories. It’s hard to believe that 15 long years after my Thanksgiving deployment, American men and women are still risking their lives in the Middle East and beyond. I hope this is the last Thanksgiving our service members will spend in combat.

We must never take for granted the freedom and safety we have here at home. Many have sacrificed to maintain our way of life.

From all of us at Concerned Veterans for America Foundation, thank you to those who’ve served and have a happy Thanksgiving!