Fact Check

Hillary Delays Thanksgiving For Troops

Hillary Clinton forced U.S. troops in Afghanistan to wait for their Thanksgiving dinner?

Published Dec 31, 2003

Claim:   Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2003 Thanksgiving visit forced U.S. troops in Afghanistan to wait for their holiday dinner.

Status:   Multiple - see below.

Example:   [NewsMax.com, 2003]

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton forced U.S. troops stationed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to wait for their Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday while she and her entourage arrived late, then cut in line and were served first.

A soldier who witnessed the scene tells NewsMax:

"Thanksgiving Dinner started at 3 p.m. that day, so the line was forming around 2:30 p.m. She didn't show up until around 3:30 p.m.

"Once she got there," our source maintains, "Clinton and her entourage bumped everyone in line, forcing them to wait almost an extra hour."

[Rest of article here]

Origins:   Although President Bush's surprise morale-boosting Thanksgiving Day trip to Baghdad to share holiday dinner with U.S. troops serving in Iraq garnered most of the headlines, U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Jack Reed of Rhode Island were also dining with servicemen far from home in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, and also paid visits to U.S. civilians and troops stationed in Baghdad the next day.

While the President made a relatively short 2½-hour visit to Baghdad, the two senators undertook a four-day jaunt which included:

  • Traveling to Islamabad, Pakistan, and meeting with the U.S. ambassador and embassy staff.
  • Traveling to Kabul, Afghanistan, and meeting with the U.S. ambassador and embassy staff, with a group of Afghan women leaders, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and with Brigadier General Lloyd Austin (commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-180 in Afghanistan).
  • Traveling to U.S. bases in Bagram and Kandahar (Afghanistan) and sharing Thanksgiving dinners with U.S. troops.
  • Traveling back to Islamabad and meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
  • Traveling to Baghdad, Iraq, and meeting with U.S. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer (head of the Coalition Provisional Authority) and Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez (the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq), with international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) providing assistance to the Iraqi people, and with Iraqi women leaders, as well as sharing several meals and visits with U.S. civilians and troops stationed in Iraq.
  • Traveling to Camp Wolverine (a transit camp for American military flying in and out of Iraq) in Kuwait and meeting with Lt. General John Abizaid, commander of CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) as well as sharing breakfast with U.S. troops.
  • Traveling to Kirkuk, Iraq, and meeting local Iraqi leaders, plus sitting down for a final meal with U.S. troops.


Senator Clinton

article quoted above (similar in tone to the long-discredited piece about Senator Clinton and Gold Star mothers) appeared on NewsMax.com on 2 December 2003. Since then, we have neither received nor seen any reports similar to the version given by the unidentified source, and congressional staffers and military personnel involved with the planning of the senators' visits relate a far more mundane account: nobody "cut in line," the senators were served according to standard protocol for visiting dignitaries, and any delay in serving food was largely due to the slowdown involved with a VIP visit and its attendant extra security and media coverage. Moreover, they said, the senators' busy itinerary created a very tight schedule which had already started to slip by the time they reached Bagram — they were due for another Thanksgiving visit with troops in Kandahar immediately afterward, and had they waited for everyone else to be served first, they risked not having sufficient time to sit down for dinner with the troops in Bagram (thereby creating potential headline fodder such as "Hillary Clinton Breaks Thanksgiving Promise to N.Y. Troops" or "Senator Clinton Refuses to Eat with U.S. Soldiers").

Similarly, some soldiers stationed in Baghdad reported that the extra security necessary for President Bush's visit denied them the opportunity to have any Thanksgiving dinner at all, as related in this excerpt of a letter to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes:

As a soldier deployed in Iraq, I hear all the complaints from individuals who think they have it worse than the next guy. I'm lucky enough to be with soldiers who often complain amongst themselves, but all they expect are good leadership and three square meals a day.

As part of the main push during major combat, our battalion was scattered all over the battlefield. We supported other units and paved the way (and roads) that others would use to get to the front lines. Our D9 teams helped push units as famous as the 101st Airborne Division from Kuwait to as far as Mosul. We took mine blasts and got shot at as we breached obstacles and cleared roads. Again, all we asked for was leadership and three squares a day.

During the war, Meals, Ready to Eat were naturally the way to go. They were appreciated, even by the vegetarians who had only crackers and cheese after the veggie meals were gone. Now that we're stationed at Baghdad International Airport almost 10 months later, my soldiers believe that several comforts have finally arrived for them, like the post exchange and dining facility. But imagine their dismay when they walked 15 minutes to the Bob Hope Dining Facility, only to find that they were turned away from their evening meal because they were in the wrong unit.

The one thing that they find a requirement was denied to them. They understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away? Why wasn't there a special meal for President Bush and that unit in the new dance hall adjoining the 1st Armored Division’s band building? And all of this happened on Thanksgiving, the best meal of the year when soldiers get a taste of home cooking.

Of the reception of Senators Clinton and Reed in Bagram, the New York Times reported:

The senators began the visit here with a meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in Kabul's stately presidential palace. They ended it in a linoleum-floored Army mess hall, eating turkey, mashed potatoes and yams off cardboard trays with soldiers from Fort Drum, the New York base of the 10th Mountain Division.

Twenty officers and soldiers from Queens, Ithaca, Geneva, Brooklyn, Homer, New Rochelle and other places across New York dined with the senators.

Senator Clinton received a generally warm reception from members of the military, who are often perceived as conservative and Republican.

After the meal, more than a dozen soldiers formed a line to have their photographs taken with the former first lady. A half dozen asked for her autograph, often inscribed to their daughters. One soldier had Mrs. Clinton autograph an American flag.

"It's great that she came here," said Capt. Jim Mullin, a 29-year-old from Mahopac who pointed out that Senator Clinton could have spent the holiday with her famous family. "It's selfless, something I respect."

Additional information:

    Afghanistan and Iraq Trip Report   Afghanistan and Iraq Trip Report   (clinton.senate.gov)

Last updated:   27 January 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Davis, Paul.   "Sen. Jack Reed Fields Questions from Quidnessett Fifth Graders."

    The Providence Journal.   4 December 2003.

    Fisher, Ian.   "Yesterday, Hail to the Chief; Today, Hail to the Senator."

    The New York Times.   29 November 2003   (p. A8).

    Henson, John.   "Hillary's Thanksgiving: Corned Beef Bash."

    News-Chronicle.   4 December 2003   (p. A4).

    Lehr, Russell.   "Democrats Did Spend Holiday with U.S. Troops."

    Sioux City Journal.   11 December 2003.

    Morris, Vincent.   "Hillary Plays Second Banana; Visits Iraq Lauding Bush Trip."

    The New York Post.   29 November 2003   (p. 5).

    Mulligan, John E.   "Reed: Saddam's Capture Doesn't Remove Obstacles."

    The Providence Journal.   15 December 2003.

    Payne, Les.   "Iraq Photo Op."

    [New York] Newsday.   30 November 2003   (p. A30).

    Rohde, David.   "Senator Clinton, in Afghanistan, Calls for More Foreign Troops."

    The New York Times.   28 November 2003   (p. A1).

    Russell, Sgt. Loren.   "Bush's Iraq Visit."

    Stars and Stripes.   3 December 2003.

    Sisk, Richard.   "Hil Hails Troops in Baghdad, Raps Prez."

    [New York] Daily News.   29 November 2003   (p. 9).

    Wagner, Thomas.   "Senator Clinton, in Afghanistan, Celebrates Thanksgiving with Troops."

    The New York Sun.   28 November 2003   (p. 6).

    The Huntsville Times.   "Thanksgiving Visit Leftovers."

      8 December 2003.

    NewsMax.com.   "Bagram GI: Troops Waited While Hillary Chowed Down."

    2 December 2003.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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