Yavoriv, Ukraine – While most of their families back home in New York were waking up and unwrapping presents, the 220 men and women of the New York Army National Guard assigned to the Multinational Training Group – Ukraine at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center here were just sitting down to their Christmas dinner.
The Soldiers, who are part of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Syracuse, N.Y., are currently stationed in Ukraine where they are training and mentoring Ukrainian Army troops working to attain the goal of NATO interoperability. Many of the Soldiers are also assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry headquartered in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Despite the fact that many of the unit's Soldiers have been deployed before, spending the holidays more than 4,500 miles from home is never easy, said Col. Dennis Deeley, the commander of the training group.
“Its important for the unit to gather together,” Deeley said. “Its a tradition across the Army that we do this Christmas meal for our Soldiers to thank them for their service throughout the year.”
For the special occasion, the Soldiers enjoyed a delicious meal consisting of steak, chicken, ham, and shrimp.
As they entered the dining facility the Soldiers were greeted by the unit's officers and senior enlisted Soldiers. In addition to the New York National Guardsmen, a contingent of Canadian, U.K., and Ukrainian Soldiers also enjoyed the holiday meal.
Once everyone had found a seat, the night's program commenced. Maj. Andrew Ayres, the 27th Brigade Chaplain gave the blessing. Then toasts were made in honor of the heads of state of the nations represented, U.S. President Donald Trump, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Following the the toasts, a Ukrainian quartet from the nearby city of Lviv performed a selection of Ukrainian Christmas carols.
The last order of business before the meal commenced was a solemn Army tradition, honoring fallen comrades. In addition to honoring all fallen and missing comrades, special recognition was given to Spc. Joseph Nelk, a cavalry scout assigned to the training group, who died unexpectedly earlier in December.
“We're away from our families and friends and we're away from our homes,” Deeley said. “We're here with our brothers and sisters in uniform and we're here with our allies and partners from other countries. Its important to gather together for the holidays and thank each other for our time together.”