VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq — US soldiers gathered for an early Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday due to an impending switch to field rations at a base near Baghdad, saying they are glad they will soon be going home.
The official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States is later this week, but the last "dining facility," or DFAC, at the sprawling Victory Base Complex (VBC) on Baghdad's outskirts closed on Sunday, as US forces prepare to depart.
Soldiers and contractors, about 6,600 of whom are still at VBC, dined at tables decorated with colourful paper turkeys and "Happy Thanksgiving" signs hanging overhead.
"We're going to do the Thanksgiving meal here today instead of on Thursday, because we're closing out," said 38-year-old Staff Sergeant Christopher Quimbly, the DFAC manager.
"Today on the menu, we have crab legs, turkey, ham, dressing, yams, green beans, rolls, corn bread, mashed potatoes, (and) a variety of deserts," he said.
"Over 2,000 pounds (almost 900 kilograms) of turkey, over 2,000 pounds of ham" and "probably about 3,000 pounds of mashed potatoes" are being served, he said.
But starting with dinner on Sunday, soldiers will have to make do with bagged field rations, Quimbly said.
"I'm thankful for everything here, I'm thankful every day. ... This means a lot. I've started off over here, seen this DFAC stood up, and I'm over here when it's closing down," he said.
Quimbly, who is married and has two sons and three daughters, said he is "definitely looking forward to getting home."
He arrived for this tour, his fifth, in May 2011.
"I think it's a good morale boost for everyone," Specialist Shawna McNeil, a 23-year-old on her first tour of duty in Iraq, said of the meal.
"It's good for us because we know that time's dwindling down, it's not much longer, it's the last meal -- we're at the home stretch, ready to go home.
"I think it's good for everyone to be together and have a good meal. I know a lot of people probably miss their families, so just a little something helps out," she added.
"Seeing that this is the last (cooked) meal for the soldiers here ... it's a good thing, 'cause we know we're moving out," said 45-year-old Sergeant James Scott, who is on his second Iraq deployment.
"It's been a really good experience, and they've done a really good job," he said of the meal.
"It's the beginning of closing it down, and having a new year back home," he said, adding: "I'm ready to head back to Kentucky -- just get back and relax, and be with the family."
President Barack Obama announced on October 21 that US forces would leave by the end of this year, bringing to a close an almost nine-year war that has left thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.