EAGLE BASE, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Hundreds of U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia (search) celebrated Thanksgiving with an interfaith religious service, a traditional turkey meal and thoughts of home.
Most of the 1,500 U.S. soldiers in Bosnia had the day off, and many gathered on an unseasonably warm, sunny morning for a service in the chapel at Eagle Base (search), near the northern town of Tuzla.
"For us soldiers, this day is eat, drink, watch football and be thankful for everything we have," said Capt. Chuck Draxler, 25, a National Guardsman from Rosemont, Minn.
"This is the first Thanksgiving I've been away, and it's hard," added Draxler, who is married with a 1-year-old son.
Chaplains led troops in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Christian prayers.
"Gathering together in an interfaith service is a symbol of the future for this great land that we serve," said Maj. William Jenkins, a 53-year-old chaplain from Chanooka, Kan.
The Americans are part of a NATO-led force of 12,000 soldiers from 30 nations that monitors the peace process implemented under an accord that ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war between Muslims, Croats and Serbs.
The United States played a key role in the peace accord and U.S. troops have been deployed here since. Pentagon officials have suggested they may end U.S. participation by the end of 2004 as they deal with the much bigger deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most of the American peacekeepers in Bosnia are from the Minnesota National Guard (search), in the state's largest deployment since World War II.
Following the religious service, the soldiers sat down for a meal of turkey, cranberry sauce and desserts. They spent the rest of the day relaxing in the spring-like air, working out at the gym and calling home to family.
Maj. Jarrod Krull, 37, from Minneapolis, said this was the second time in his 11-year service that he has been away from home for Thanksgiving.
Krull, who is married and has a 5-year-old daughter, served in the first Gulf War.
"Compared to Iraq, this is heaven," he said. "Here we have e-mail, telephone, we can be in touch with our families. We may not be physically home, but our hearts are home."