SIDNEY — Thanksgiving is usually a time to be off and for family to gather, but for those serving in the military it is often just like any other Thursday.
Retired U.S. Army Veteran MSgt. Judy Johnson, of Sidney, and retired U.S. Air Force Veteran MSgt. Theresa Manteuffel, of Lockington, both attested to the fact that duty comes first and that reality is the way of life for military families.
Being stationed out of state or out of the country, Johnson was often always separated from most of her family, but was able to be with her late husband and daughter for most holidays. Even though she often had to work on Thanksgiving, she tried to make the best of it with fellow military personnel.
“You know that you have to depend upon each other to survive, even if it’s just day-to-day activities,” Johnson said of the the Army atmosphere and being stationed away together during the holidays. “That’s the one thing I think that I missed the most when I retired was you didn’t have that camaraderie with the civilian sector.”
Manteuffel, coming from a military family, including her father, two brothers and brother-in law as veterans, she recognized working on Thanksgiving, or any other holiday, is just the way it is.
There were times when she was stationed overseas working 12-hour shifts on Thanksgiving, and the day came and went like any other day. Manteuffel was deployed overseas as a radar operator for three tours of duty; two short, one-year tours; and one, two and a half year tour. Her husband was able to accompany her on her two tours to Iceland, but the one year tour to the Thule Air Base in Greenland, no family was allowed, so she had to go alone.
“I tried not to get wrapped up in it and get depressed, because nothing good comes of that. It was just the way of life and it’s just the way you were raised,” Manteuffel said of working during the holidays and growing up in a military family.
“When we were together, on a long tour, we had a traditional meal and invited single guys from the barracks over (for dinner). — There were no other women in my crew. In a crew of 60 people, there was only one female. — And we were about half way through cooking the turkey and the power went out. We had no power. The dinner was ruined. Had to go to the chow hall (for food),” she recalled of one Thanksgiving in Iceland.
Johnson said she and her husband, who she met when they both were in the Army, would also invite single soldiers in her unit over for Thanksgiving, or sometimes prepare and take food over to the barracks for those who couldn’t make it home.
“Those were the ones who couldn’t go home because others maybe put in their leave first and so they had to stay and work. I may have been of a higher rank than them, but that doesn’t negate that I don’t care about them. It was important to make them feel as if we were all part of a family, especially at a holiday time that they were missing not being able to go home,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s father was also a veteran, so she knew she would have to sacrifice being around family during holidays. She said her husband Benjamin, who was originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, and whom she met when they both were serving in the Army, always found it very difficult to be away from family during the holidays. She said Benjamin was the Thanksgiving Day cook.
“My husband was the best chef; he was a short-order cook when he was a teenager. So, he did most of the cooking. He did the turkeys and ham and sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, and dressing,” she recalled with a big smile.
“He was a very caring person. So, when we lived in Germany, soldiers that wasn’t able to go home for the holidays — Thanksgiving or Christmas — we would invite them over to our place and fix a meal. Some of them were so close-knit in the barracks that they would say, ‘No, we’ll just go to the dining facility.’ But some of them liked to come over and would celebrate the holidays,” Johnson continued.
Manteuffel said when she was stationed alone at Thule, on Thanksgiving she worked a 12 hour shift and it was as if the holiday never even happened.
“You couldn’t get depressed; nothing good comes of it,” she reiterated about the military way of life. “But by the time I went to Thule, I already had 10 years of service. I tried not to think about it.”
Johnson said, “Sometimes it was hard juggling family over work. There was many times that I wanted to go to my daughter’s basketball game or her gymnastics meet and I couldn’t because military obligations came into play.
Although holidays were sometimes difficult, both expressed pride in serving in the military.
“It was a pride wearing the uniform. My dad was always so proud of me. It was an honor to serve our country and I sometimes miss the camaraderie,” Johnson said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.