Thanksgiving in Afghanistan: Far from home, U.S. troops celebrate holiday as best they can

U.S. troops line up for Thanksgiving grub at Camp Kaia, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2012.
CBS/Erin Lyall

This story was written by CBS News' Erin Lyall.

Kabul, Afghanistan About 66,000 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan, spending Thanksgiving away from their families. In some respects, it's a day like any other; the mission today is the same as yesterday's and will be the same as tomorrow's.

"To be honest, it feels just like another day at work," shrugged Army Maj. Jennifer Johnson, who has been here since May and will be deployed for another six months.

"Yep, but with better food," added Army Reserve Maj. Patrick Powe, who is on his first tour in Afghanistan.

These soldiers and nearly 2,500 others are stationed at Camp Kaia, on the grounds of Kabul's airport. On a dusty field in the morning haze, teams were formed -- grouped by division and by country -- to play a lighthearted game of Ultimate Football to celebrate the holiday. The sport is a combination of American football, soccer, and rugby, which made some of the international teams even more formidable.

"Canada really knows what they're doing out there," grumbled one U.S. Marine on the sidelines.

Thanksgiving dinner, as served up to U.S. troops based at Camp Kaia
Thanksgiving lunch, as served up to U.S. troops based at Camp Kaia, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2012.
CBS/Erin Lyall

Thanksgiving lunch was served in the cafeteria by an army of chefs and line cooks. Ice sculptures of an eagle and a cornucopia dripped on nearby tables; an enterprising kitchen employee had carved flowers out of dyed potatoes and built a replica of an American homestead out of sardines. When the doors opened at 11 a.m., troops and base employees were already queued up behind both entrances.

"Dude, they have pumpkin pie!"

"Where's the eggnog?"

American troops navigated the familiar smorgasbord: sliced turkey, roast beef, pineapple glazed ham, mashed potatoes, mac n' cheese. Sparkling grape juice flowed. Bemused French troops poked at cornbread stuffing and took second helpings of pecan pie. The proud head chef stood next to his Thanksgiving cake - about the size of five sheet cakes. He told CBS News there's no limit to how many servings everyone can get -- 200 turkeys were prepared on base to make sure no one leaves hungry.

For many here, this will be their last Thanksgiving on deployment in Afghanistan: several of the units based here will be pulling out for good this spring.