ABOARD USS PONCE --
Just because they're thousands of miles from their homes and their loved ones, doesn't mean the Marines and sailors of the USS Ponce and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) didn't have some of the comforts of home for Thanksgiving.
The evening before Thanksgiving, the Ponce Religious Ministry Team, with the help of the MEU Chaplain, hosted an inter-faith Thanksgiving celebration on the ship's mess deck.
Each of the Chaplains, as well as lay leaders from the different faiths represented on the ship, took turns standing and talking about how Thanksgiving related to their particular religion.
"We have various faith backgrounds. We have various religious and faith preferences," said Ponce Chaplain, Navy Lt. Darin Dunham. "This is a time for us to come, and in a unified way, acknowledge our common heritage on Thanksgiving Day that was given to us by our forefathers."
Even as the inter-faith service was going on, the ship's food service specialists were busy preparing the food for the next day's meal.
"It's countless hours. We had a lot of hands involved in this, all of us pitching in," said food service specialist, Petty Officer 2nd Class Antonio Goodman. "I've been planning this for about two and a half weeks now. I've been waiting for this day to come."
The available food covered the spectrum, including standard fare such as turkey, stuffing and both mashed and sweet potatoes, as well as roast beef, ham and even several whole, charcoal roasted pigs.
"We had to build the pit to cook them in," said Goodman, a native of Baltimore, Md. "We injected them, smoked them and, from what people are saying, they're looking good."
When mealtime finally came around, the Marines and sailors were cycled through at various times, split up by section, so as to avoid having all 800 people on board the ship vying for dinner at the same time.
"We've got plenty of food. I just didn't want everybody at one time," said Goodman. "I wanted to give everybody a good hour to eat and be able to eat as much as they want."
Many of the service members took that idea to heart, piling great, heaping mounds of food onto their plates.
"I had turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, I think some collared greens. I just kind of put a mountain of chow on (my plate)," said Sgt. Claude Baisden, an engineer with Combat Logistics Battalion 22. "It was excellent chow. Probably the best meal I've had since I've been on ship."
Once the troops cleared their plates of the main selections, there was still dessert to eat -- lots of dessert -- an entire table filled from end to end with dessert.
"I wanted to have a variety of desserts," said Goodman. "Some people wanted cookies. Some people wanted cake. So, I tried to put a mixture of everything."
Even the line service was designed to boost morale, with Marine staff non commissioned officers and Navy chief petty officers scooping up the chow for the junior Marines and sailors coming through the line.
"It lifts morale," said Baisden, a native of Logan, W.V. "It's good to see people making an effort and working up here to make it a little bit better even though we are away (from home)."