JACKSONVILLE, ONSLOW COUNTY - Nearly 100 volunteers with the USO in Jacksonville fed nearly 3,000 military service members and their families Thanksgiving Day.
"It's all about taking care of our own," one volunteer said.
"I'm happy that I'm helping other people," another said.
"Giving myself to those who aren't so fortunate enough to be home."
Thanksgiving Day has several meanings, but it means more to Pfc. Charles Ford this year, than any other.
"I was kind of worried it would be disappointing being away from my family, being away from my wife, but at the same time, I'm able to make the best of it with these guys, as we've all grown pretty close," Ford said.
It's the first time Ford and his fellow Marines couldn't make it home for the holiday. Retired Sgt. Maj. Joesph Houle says the USO in Jacksonville is a home away from home.
"The main thing is camaraderie -- that they're sitting down here, families sitting down, being able to talk to one another and renew old relationships and friendships," Houle said.
Volunteers prepared a feast and packed boxes of food to deliver to those on duty at local bases. This is the 19th year that the USO has hosted this event.
The turkey, ham, green beans and yams are a special treat for Natasha Price's family.
"It means a lot," Price said. "I know a lot of them because I work at Camp Lejeune, and a lot aren't from here. I know it means a lot having a home-cooked meal, when you can't get home."
And it's a memorable year for Houle.
"This year's special because we have most of our Marines home from the war, if you will," Houle said. "So we're going to have Marines here that have been deployed, five, six times in the last 10 years."
But most importantly, it's the military bringing everyone together. It's the military that gives Ford a reason to be thankful.
"Most of my life, leading up to now, hasn't really accomplished much, but I actually feel as though I have kind of a sense of purpose, now," Ford said. "That's definitely something I'm thankful for."
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