EL SALVADOR — Being away from home for months at a time is never easy, especially during the holidays. Fort Bragg soldiers who are helping Hurricane Mitch victims can expect to be in El Salvador until mid-February.
Setting up camp for 1,300 soldiers in a cow pasture in El Salvador is no easy task, but there are rewards like the sight of a majestic volcano towering in the distance, and a meal with local flavor cooked and served by Salvadorians.
"It's a big change, but it's great," one soldier said. "We are really enjoying it."
The Salvadorians say they are glad to feed Americans who came to help the victims of Hurricane Mitch.
"For us it's really important," says Albert Salamanca, a food server from El Salvador. "It reminds us that Americans are always here for us to help with any problems we have."
But a cooked meal is the exception; Most of the time soldiers eat meals ready to eat, or "MRE's," right out of the bag, and they say it does not compare to home cooking.
"I would be insulting my wife if I said it was as good as home cooking," says Sgt. Anthony Robinson from Fort Bragg. "It's not even close, not even close."
It is hard to be away from home anytime of the year, especially around the holidays. So the military sets up phones in a tent where soldiers can call loved ones twice a week.
Getting mail from home is another key to keeping soldiers' morale boosted.
"You always know there'll be a note and goodies, it really keeps you going," one soldier said.
Having access to news also keeps soldiers in touch with what is going on in the world. The soldiers are eager for information about the conflict in Iraq.
As night falls, there is time to read or share a laugh and a little friendly competition playing dominoes with other soldiers.
"This is a good life, a good life," says Sgt. Pamela Gains from Fort Bragg. "We're having a good time."
The soldiers are working hard, and doing a lot of good for the people in Central America. However, they are looking forward to the home-cooked meals that await their return.