November 23, 2006--Posted at 6:00 p.m. CST
DESHA, AR--Thanksgiving is a special time of year to spend with family. However, what do you do when your family is thousands of miles overseas in Iraq?
For Stacy McGinnis it was supposed to be a memorable holiday season.
"My husband and I just got married before he left. We got married in March, he left in July. It was going to be our first Thanksgiving and first holiday so it is real hard," said McGinnis.
Specialist Dennis McGinnis like hundreds of other men and women of the 875th Engineer Battalion left behind loved ones when they were deployed to Iraq. Instead of enduring a lonely Thanksgiving, a number of military families are addressing the problem.
"Knowing that my husband isn't here and we don't have a family of our own right now, we have decided to spend it with all the families who aren't together," said McGinnis.
"We are all part of the Family Readiness Group. We ban together in a time like this. I don't really have much family up here in Arkansas, we decided to spend it with the next best thing our Family Readiness Group. They are our family now," said Kim Meredith.
While it doesn't make up for not having their husbands to spend thanksgiving with, they are thankful for each other this holiday season.
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate having someone around me that is going through the same thing," said McGinnis.
"It helps, it doesn't fill the void, but you aren't constantly wondering what if," said Meredith.
One of the families in the readiness group was fortunate to have their loved one home for Thanksgiving. Specialist Jonathan Wheeler is finishing up school before heading to Iraq later this month with the 875th. Thanksgiving 2006 is particularly special to him, because later in the day he renewed his vows to his wife. He feels the memories will provide him a huge boost once in Iraq.
"I can just think back to being here and looking into my wife's eyes and knowing I love her and looking at my kids and being able to remember them," said Wheeler.
While it is hard for Wheeler to leave behind his wife and kids, he feels secure knowing his family has such a strong support group.
"With him being gone, we are doing the next best thing. We're relying on friends who are now our family," said Meredith.