For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to gather 'round the table with family. A soldier from Atlanta is one of the many military members who has to celebrate far from home and family this year.
"You have a different type of a family here," says Army Specialist Zachary Taylor.
Taylor, an aircraft powerplant repairer with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, spends his duty hours rebuilding engines on Apache, Blackhawk, and Chinook helicopters. In the military for 2.5 years now, he's already on his second overseas deployment--and his second Thanksgiving away from home.
>>LISTEN TO VERONICA WATERS’ FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW.
A Soldier of the 3rd Infantry Division, with its home base at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, Taylor spent a year in Korea from 2018-19. Then, he shipped out again in early October--right after his wedding. He's now in Illesheim, Germany.
"Even though it's hard being away from home, it's something you gotta do for the bigger picture," Taylor tells WSB.
As proud as Taylor is to serve his nation, this Thanksgiving is different. Not only does he miss the traditional feast and warm fun of his close-knit family, now, he's a newlywed.
"We're learning to love each other from a distance," he says, talking about the frequent video calls he and his wife, Jessica Kettell, share. Kettell is an ICU nurse at Grady Memorial Hospital.
For Spec. Taylor, missing his family is easily the hardest part of being away from home. He and his fellow soldiers are all going through the same thing, he says, and though they all empathize with one another, it takes time to build personal relationships.
"It's a camaraderie-type of a family," says Taylor, "people that come from all different places of the world that you don't really know, but the only thing that you really have in common is your line of work and what you're going through together. You have to build off of that versus knowing someone your entire life."
The 2010 graduate of Chapel Hill High School in Douglasville says the military helps with that in the way they help soldiers celebrate.
The Army plans a huge Thanksgiving feast, with games and fun touches ranging from cake decorating to cornhole contests to charades.
It's good, Taylor says, yet nothing compares to being home: being with family; being able to get in your car and drive somewhere; being treated to a really good home-cooked meal and the love shared with it. "Being in the military, you're connected because you have to be connected. It's a different type of love," he says.
In 2018, the wide-ranging menu for troops overseas and on the border included more than 60,000 pounds of turkey, some 34 tons of shrimp, more than 81,000 pies and 19,000 cakes, and nearly 8,000 gallons of eggnog. Traditionally, Army commanders serve junior personnel during the Thanksgiving feast by dishing up dinner.
"Seeing your superiors and stuff like that, you're seeing them more on a personal level than professional level," says Taylor. "So it's nice to have that type of experience during the holidays of, 'Hey, we all wear the same uniform at the end of the day. Regardless of what your rank is, we're all in this together, and we're all family.'"
On the phone in his XO's office, 27-year-old nearly swoons when describing the missed, tasty tradition making him the most homesick over the holiday.
"Ahhh, man. That would have to be my mother's stuffing that she makes. It's always just perfect with the turkey and everything that goes together with it. It's almost as good as Christmas dinner," he laughs. "The smell of the cookies. She always goes through baking tons of different types of cookies around this time of year and it's just absolutely wonderful. The smell of it, the aura that you get with it is completely seasonal and probably the thing I miss the most."
Taylor is thankful for family, who stay connected to him even though he's six hours ahead and almost 4,800 miles away; and friends, who help the new husband keep the romance going in his absence in the home, by delivering flowers to his new wife.
He says Kettell has been working long hours in hopes of being able to flying to Germany during the Christmas holiday season, and she's already excited about seeing the vibrant markets. He's looking forward to what he's heard will be a beautiful winter near Illesheim, and hoping for a white Christmas so he can snowboard.
"She's going to be the best Christmas present I could ask for, coming over here," says Spec. Taylor.