Giving Thanks on Deployment Published Dec. 2, 2017 By Airman 1st Class Darrion Browning 380th Air Expeditionary Wing AL DHAFRA AIR BASE - United Arab Emirates -- Like many families, my family kicks-off the holiday season by giving thanks on thanksgiving and sharing memories with friends and distant relatives over abundant amounts of food in the comfort of someone’s home. Year after year, neither distance nor schedules seem to get in the way of this tradition. However this year, since I was on a 6-month deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base between October and April, I would have to break this tradition. This year, my expectation of thanksgiving was eating the dining facility’s “finest gourmet meal” with a bunch of people I just met or didn’t know. Thanksgiving this year began odd. I woke to my calendar and numerous social media messages telling me it was Thanksgiving; however to me, it felt nothing like it. Maybe it was because I woke up to desert hot temperatures that only get hotter throughout the day, or possibly the lack of change in the color of the leaves (or any leaves or color at all for that matter), or maybe it was waking up in a room with a person I’d met a few weeks prior. No couch to relax on, no television to watch football on…nothing about it felt like Thanksgiving. Just days before the holiday, I learned of an event near my base where members of the U.S. Embassy and local business owners gave a number of service members the opportunity to spend their Thanksgiving in the luxury of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers through a “sponsor a service member” type event. Through a stroke of luck, my name was one of the 34 military participants selected to go. Since this was my first time off base I didn’t know what to expect. My friends who had been off base shared stories about the abundance of the latest in luxury vehicles on all the roadways, the beautiful architectures throughout Abu Dhabi and the massive amounts of well-dressed people. But for whatever reason I couldn’t get over the lights, and the way the streets glittered in a way that shimmered even more against the night sky as we drove closer into the city. When we arrived at the Towers, we were escorted inside by some of the facility staff. I was like a kid in a candy store, in awe as we were lead to the dining room through marble floors and vaulted ceilings. Once there we were greeted with refreshments by a friendly, smiling staff. The host and general manager, Stefan Fuchs, then escorted us to the area that held the buffet. The buffet had 143 different international dishes available some of which were cooked to order in front of us while we waited. And if that wasn’t enough there was also a table set aside specifically for our party with a traditional style thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings. The night didn’t end there either. After dinner we took an elevator so high my ears popped during the lift. The door opened to a lounge overlooking the bustling city at and the flickering of traffic lights mimicked arcade lights. When I wasn’t taking in the views or socializing with everyone there, I briefly sat in the corner briefly to observe and capture my thoughts. In those few moments everything clicked. At that moment I realized that while I was thousands of miles away from my family and friends during one of the most important times of year, I knew I wasn’t alone. The room was full of people just like me, away from their families yet lucky enough to be together to share this once in a lifetime experience. The Air Force constantly echoes a message that we are all family, ‘Brothers and sisters in arms.’ It may be harder to see in-garrison where after work you can go home and see your actual family. All of us in the military have a different motivator for joining the service; however the constant between us all is that we decided to serve. We chose to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies regardless of what it would take, even if it meant leaving friends and family during a time when most are together. During this year’s holiday season I may not be with my immediate family, however it is here that I will celebrate with my extended family... my brothers and sisters in arms.