KABUL — Nobody likes spending Christmas at war, but with all combat troops withdrawing by the end of 2014, this holiday season is likely the last in Afghanistan for most of the troops who were chowing down on ham and turkey at Kabul's military airport Tuesday.
American troops, accustomed to multiple combat tours over the past 11 years, take spending the holidays deployed in stride these days, but on this day especially their thoughts drift homeward.
"I go with the flow, but I always wish I was home with my family," said Army Spc. John Schofield, 26, who is stationed at the airport on his second deployment. "I always wish it's the last Christmas downrange."
For Adrian Mearns, the head chef at the airport dining hall, Christmas at war has become a way of life. Tuesday was his first Christmas in Afghanistan, but the last eight have been spent running dining halls in Iraq.
Before Tuesday's lunch, Mearns was hurriedly working with the chow hall employees to put up decorations and make sure the food, which included 880 pounds of turkey and 560 pounds of rib eye, was ready to go on time.
By the time troops started filing in, the dining hall was strung with green and red decorations, complete with a styrofoam sculpture of Santa in his sleigh being pulled by reindeer., Christmas tunes filled the air.
"We try to do the best for the soldiers that we can," Mearns said.
Tuesday was Army Capt. Randi Ludington's first Christmas since getting married, and she planned to chat with her husband on Skype later that night and watch each other open presents.
"It's just another day with a different family," she said.
After so long at war, most troops simply greet Christmas downrange with a shrug, and, like most troops interviewed, Army Lt. Col. Jennifer Cassidy said she's ready to do it again, if necessary.
"If we have to be here again, we'll do what we have to do," she said.