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For troops, not a regular feast

Baghdad, Nov. 27 (Reuters): There was turkey and stuffing, and American football on television, but in almost all other respects it was a far from ordinary Thanksgiving for tens of thousands of US troops serving in Iraq today.

With family and friends thousands of miles away, soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division gathered in a prefabricated dining hall in eastern Baghdad to munch on traditional fare and reflect on the annual holiday.

Rather than bitterness at being stuck so far from home, it was with introspection and soul-searching that most chewed over their sweet potatoes, ham, corn and cranberry sauce.

Its actually pretty interesting to have Thanksgiving here in Baghdad I mean its not every day that you can say that, said Private Jeffrey Riebe, 20, from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Im certainly thankful that we still have everyone in our unit, which isnt the case for many others.

In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown 180 km north of Baghdad, 4th Infantry Division soldiers went on a 5-kM turkey trot at dawn before sitting down to feast. Its good and bad, Sergeant Mike Kuchinski, 29, from Blaine, Minnesota, said of Thanksgiving in Iraq.

I get to spend it with all my comrades in arms here. But its bad because I miss my family.

The US military will spend about $4.5 million this year providing troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan with a special meal on Thanksgiving.

By far the biggest deployment overseas is in Iraq, where more than 130,000 troops face daily engagement with Iraqi insurgents as they try to bring security to the country. The holiday dates from 1621 when early settlers celebrated a successful harvest giving them enough food to last the winter. They shared the feast with neighbouring native Americans.

More than 430 US soldiers have died in Iraq since the war to overthrow Saddam was launched in March and it was the memory of those men and women that was most on people's minds today.

A lot more people went to church last night and there's a different feeling among the soldiers today, said Captain Jean-Pierre Brown, a fire support officer whose unit was eating Thanksgiving lunch under Iraq's national Martyrs' Monument.

At their base inside Iraq's former Olympic sports complex, members of the 1st Brigade's battalion support group chatted before lunch M16s slung over their shoulders then toasted with non-alcoholic sparkling juice. It's probably strange to say, but Im enjoying myself, said private Claudia Kannel, 24, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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