Turkey Head Baseball: Or, How I Celebrated Thanksgiving In Afghanistan (Graphic)


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By Jay Kirell

** Be advised this article contains graphic photos not suitable for the squeamish **

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As an follow-up to yesterday’s post about how I spent Chanukah in Afghanistan, I thought it would be only fitting to book-end that with the story of how I spent Thanksgiving.

By late November, most of the small-arms fire and daily attacks our outpost received had died down.   This is pretty much an annual cycle in Afghanistan not too unlike the monarch butterfly migration. As such our platoon had time to engage in “luxuries” like celebrating holidays.

Thanksgiving was the first one we celebrated.  By that time our platoon had been in-country about six months.  We had only received a real-live cook (or Food Service Specialist) and dining set-up the month prior.  For the first five months we ate MRE’s, scrambled eggs cooked in a 10-gallon pot over a barbecue made from burning plywood, frozen steaks that came in (literally) garbage bags, and anything else that you can hold over a crude fire and heat up enough to eat.

So when Thanksgiving finally came around the platoon was looking forward to a big, fat turkey…made by a real cook trained to actually…cook food for other soldiers.

Of course, the infantry being the infantry – or more to the point, high-ranking infantry officers being out-of-touch with reality and high on their own imagination of what ‘real grunts’ want – our leadership decided to forgo this…

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…and this…

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…in favor of six live local Afghan turkeys, which, when you see the pictures, you’ll realize probably equaled one and a half regular American genetically engineered super-turkeys.

Which, I suppose is cool if you’re an organic foods lover and like the idea of a free-range turkey thanksgiving.

But if you’re a tired, hungry, grumpy infantryman half-way through a year-long deployment – the idea of being handed six living, breathing, gobbling, malnourished birds (that looked like some Afghan farmer probably fed them nothing but dirty water and rocks for the last three months) then being asked to make dinner out of it while the cook sits in his hooch and takes the day off is head-smacking in a way only an enlisted infantryman can truly understand.

Especially considering we weren’t exactly equipped to be a slaughterhouse.

A few of the guys I was with jumped at the idea to kill a few turkeys, since they tended to be the type to jump at the opportunity to kill anything – turkeys, rats, kittens, spiders, mongooses, coyotes, Taliban, anyone who looks like they could be Taliban, ect.

In other words, our infantry platoon had a few guys who drifted over that line from being secure around death to actually enjoying its company.

The set-up we devised was as crude as the method used to deliver the killing blows.

A wooden board and a baseball bat.

The turkey, kicking and screaming, was held by the base of its neck while placed on the wooden board.  The guys would take turns playing the easiest whack-a-mole game ever created:

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After being sufficiently brained, the turkeys were tied up by their feet with the ever-valuable 550 cord to Hesco walls that lined the outpost.

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In an interesting measure of just how chain of command works in the Army, the higher-ups called in the hit-job on the turkeys, the upper-level enlisted arranged the mission (secured the birds), the mid-level enlisted killed the birds and got to take sweet photos of themselves hanging over the corpses, and the lower enlisted got to pluck the feathers off and pull out the guts.

That’s war in a nutshell.

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From the time the six turkeys were brought in – after setting up a pen to keep them in –  until the time they were fully prepared and ready to cook – was about five hours.

Five extra hours on a day we had no missions and got into no contact.  A day we were supposed to be taking it easy – which we needed, since we had so few of those days for the first six months.

But there are no easy days in Afghanistan.  Something I thought about a lot on the days I would spend alone in the guard towers.  If the Taliban weren’t making our lives miserable we seemed to do everything we could to make ourselves miserable.

All the work we were doing… for what?

So our “leadership” can give us this…

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…and call it a Thanksgiving dinner?

In a way it makes perfect sense.  Mine was the ninth Thanksgiving some poor dumb private had spent in a guard tower in Afghanistan. Three years later we’re up to the 12th Thanksgiving over there, with no end sight.

Once again some poor dumb private will sit alone in a tower – eating their leadership’s brilliant ideas for yet another of the most American of holidays.

How fitting.

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