Dawson County’s Mark Maglothan has spent his share of Thanksgivings away from home while serving in the U.S. military.
Not being stateside for the holidays is something you get used to, Maglothan said.
“After you do it enough times, there’s less ... trauma to it,” he said.
The 30-year Army veteran and helicopter pilot has flown countless missions in Iraq, spending 13 to 16 months at a time overseas.
His most recent stint in Iraq ended months ago, so he’s looking forward to this week’s festivities, including time with his wife, children and grandchildren.
But he doesn’t envy young soldiers spending Thanksgiving away from their loved ones.
“It’s hard,” said Maglothan, 53. “The first time or two I did it, it was nearly crushing.”
Many soldiers from Dawson County will experience their first Thanksgiving away from home this week.
Katie Cecil, 23, left several weeks ago for Afghanistan.
Parents Tom and Amy Wilson hope to talk to her on the phone Thursday. But Tom Wilson, an Army veteran, knows “there’s no guarantee on that.”
“If something happens, she could be out in the field,” Wilson said. “Thanksgiving becomes just another day out there.”
Wilson said U.S. military officials often try to replicate Thanksgiving at bases.
“At a very large base like Katie’s they will commemorate the holidays to some extent,” he said.
Maglothan said that rings true in his experience.
“The mess hall went to a lot of trouble to give us very good food, and they made decorations for us,” Maglothan said. “I don’t have any complaints. It was about as good as you can expect in a place like that.”
Maglothan said other soldiers may have been less fortunate.
“When I was flying the helicopter, I went to some dirt holes too, and I wonder how well they had it,” he said. “Probably not near as good as I did.”
Sheryl Fletcher of Dawsonville said her son will have “a traditional Thanksgiving dinner [in Afghanistan], but it’s a regular work day.”
Thanksgiving with the Fletchers is usually a large affair. Not this year.
With her son, grandson and grandson-in-law serving in the military, dinner was called off.
“Everybody’s gone,” Fletcher said. “We won’t really be doing much of anything.”
She does, however, expect a phone call this week from son Randy Fletcher, grandson Nelson Galarza and grandson-in-law Josh Edwards.
“It’s sad not to be able to celebrate the holidays the way we normally do, but I know they’re doing something that’s worthwhile and it makes me proud of them,” Fletcher said.
Connie Langston said she’s proud of son, Michael Langston. After spending many months in Iraq, the 22-year-old Army soldier is stationed in Alaska.
“We miss him. It’s his third Thanksgiving away from home, but we get to talk to him quite a bit since he’s stationed in the states now,” Langston said. “It’s hard, but it helps to hear his voice on the phone.”
When the phone isn’t an option, some say computers are the next best thing.
“Thank God for the Internet,” said Amy Wilson, who gets e-mail updates from daughter, Katie Cecil. “It helps to see the words she’s written ... it feels a little like she’s right here talking with me.”
Sheryl Fletcher said she checks e-mail “first thing in the morning, because [son, Randy] has usually written something the night before.”
Fletcher said she’s counting the days until her family members return.
“Not having everybody together this time of year will be a little bit tough, but we’ll get through it,” Fletcher said.
Maglothan said getting through can be tough indeed.
“But you do what you can,” he said. “Being away from your family during the holidays, it makes you appreciate the time you do get to spend with them. It makes you grateful.”