The mess hall at an Army base in Kuwait isn't exactly the prime setting for a feast. But for Maj. Chris Parker, it provided the backdrop for a unique Thanksgiving Day experience, because how many people can really say they've eaten turkey with an Australian in the desert.
Parker, who also teaches English at Coosa High, recalled his memory of last year's Thanksgiving, when he was stationed in the Middle East during active duty, after being called on as an Army Reservist in July 2016.
It was a moment where he was overcome with a sense of really having something to be thankful for, he said, as he sat among his brothers and sisters in arms who were part of the U.S.-led coalition seeing to the destruction of the Islamic State.
All of them missed their families, he said, but, even if just for a couple of hours, they had something special in sharing a meal together. Spending holidays on active duty, something he has done multiple times over his over 20-year career, is all about "trying to find the little pieces of home to make the drudgery a little more tolerable," he said.
"You make do," he said, adding that it hurts to be away from family. "You just kinda take 'em with you."
Though, in comparison with his previous tours, having an iPhone with Facetime readily available is a much-improved upgrade from $1.99 phone calls. However, Parker laughed about a story his daughter, a junior at Coosa High, told him. A fellow student had gone up to her and said her dad was on CNN the night before.
"I saw him, too," Parker recalled her saying. "The first time I've seen him in months."
Parker started back teaching Aug. 25, after over a year of serving as a public affairs officer, being the voice on the ground for the coalition. With things slowing down for Parker, as would be the case for anyone who went from fighting the Islamic State to closing achievement gaps and boosting literacy rates, he finds himself working for his 100 students instead of colonels and generals.
The transition from soldier to teacher was described by him with the analogy of trying to build a plane while it's in the air, he said. Adjusting on the fly is always the case with teaching, finding out what works best with students as you go.
On one hand, Parker said he needed time to be with his family and friends upon his return, but he also hates to sit around. So getting right into the thick of things was fitting.
He started a journalism class this year, which is his pet project, and jumped into helping out his school's One Act Play and coaching cross country and now wrestling.
His latest tour was his most challenging yet, from the intensity of the work to the urgency of the fight. It was also the first time where he was put on such a stage in a high-profile position — he was moved back and forth between Iraq and Kuwait. He had previously never had to work one-on-one with reporters from national papers like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal or foreign broadcast companies like the BBC.
This meant he had to be on the top of his game, regardless of how tired he was or if his Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 107 years.
It was a very interesting time around last Thanksgiving, he said, with questions floating in about the 2016 election's impact on soldiers, to which he replied it doesn't matter who wins because he is still putting on the same uniform.
Parker won't be wearing his uniform at the dinner table today and it's doubtful that an Aussie will show, but nonetheless, whether overseas or at home, there is plenty for him to be thankful for.
The cause of the food-borne illness outbreak at Toyo Tire in Bartow County on Nov. 14-15 was salmonella, according to Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District officials.
DPH spokesman Logan Boss said the department is still working to determine specifically what food was the source of the problem.
"We are pleased that health officials have identified the source of this illness and we continue to work with authorities as they complete their work," said James A. Bourne of Abernathy Mac- Gregor which is handling media inquiries for Toyo. "We encourage any Toyo employee with questions on this matter to contact Human Resources."
The illness generally runs its course over four to seven days, but in extreme cases the diarrhea and resulting dehydration can lead to hospitalization, Boss said.
There have been five hospitalizations due to the outbreak, but well over 40 employees who have reported symptoms of the illness. Boss identified symptoms of food borne illness to include upset stomach, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
According to the regional Department of Public Health office in Rome, the food-service facility in Cartersville that catered the event will remain closed until the week after Thanksgiving. The company has been identified by the Daily Tribune in Cartersville and various social media outlets as Angelo's of Cartersville.
Employees of the restaurant are receiving special training in the safe food handling from environmental health specialists.
Numerous social media postings have expressed concern that Toyo's policy of assessing points to people who are out of work would continue to be assessed even though the illnesses were apparently the result of the company hosted event.
An employee who did not want to be identified said the employees were told they would not get points or lose holiday pay for being out for illness relating to the company-sanctioned event.
Boss said he could not comment on whether or not any sanctions would be levied against the caterer.
"We are following up on the public health aspects of this outbreak and making sure that restaurant is safe to reopen," Boss said.
Associated Editor Doug Walker contributed to this report.
Today the Concerned Citizens of Rome and Floyd County will host the Thanksgiving Love Feast at the Rome Civic Center from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. or until food runs out. Free food, coats and jackets will be offered.
For more Thanksgiving Day coverage from around the nation.
A younger politically-minded generation is showing up, with new technology-based ideas to challenge what appears to them as a fixed system.
For instance, a 28-year-old music major at Dalton State University is moving to challenge U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R- Ranger, for the 14th Congressional District seat.
Brian Rosser said Tuesday he's decided to defer his career to run for office as a Democrat in 2018.
The filing deadline is March 19 and the primary is in May.
"I wanted to be a rock and roller, but these are extraordinary times," Rosser said. "I'm tired of seeing everybody at each other's throats and nobody stepping up to do anything."
The district covers 12 counties in the northwest corner of the state: Floyd, Gordon, Polk, Chattooga, Walker, Catoosa, Dade, Paulding, Haralson, Murray, Whitfield and half of Pickens.
Graves has held the seat since 2010 and the Democratic Party has not fielded a candidate for the past two elections.
The region is heavily Republican, with 76.7 percent of the electorate turning out last year to give Donald Trump 75.2 percent of the vote. In comparison, Trump netted just 51 percent of the votes cast statewide.
However, Rosser said his exploratory work convinced him he could tap wide support and bring new voters to the polls. Social media and other new technologies are now available to help get his message out, he said.
" Congressmen and women on both sides of the aisle — it seems like everybody knows what they should be doing except them," he said.
" Especially Tom Graves, who talks in broad platitudes but caters to big industry over small business."
The "hotel incident" still rankles people in Calhoun, Rosser said, and shows Graves puts himself before the community.
As state lawmakers in 2007, Graves and Chip Rogers took out a $2.3 million loan to buy and remodel the Oglethorpe Inn off Interstate 75 at Red Bud Road. But they ended up being sued for defaulting in early 2010.
The two countersued and, ultimately, there was a settlement. But locals were affected by the bank's later failure and the dilapidated abandoned hotel stood as a reminder of the deal until it was demolished in 2013.
"I could see that as an indicator of how Tom Graves handles himself," Rosser said. "And then they put him on the (U.S. House) subcommittee dealing with financial services.
"To me, it's wrong. A lot of people here are counting on him but partisanship gets in the way. This district is not being represented," he added.
Funding a campaign
Graves has drawn challengers in the Republican primaries but pulled more than 70 percent of those votes in 2014 and 2016. He also had $1.4 million in his campaign chest as of the end of September, according to filings released Tuesday by the Federal Elections Commission.
Rosser is in the process of setting up an account. He said statistics on the cost of running a campaign are discouraging, but it's a new day. He referenced Danny Grant, a Democrat who spent just $33,000 to win 27 percent of the vote when he ran against Graves in 2012.
"I don't think a lot of people understand the power of the internet," he said.
Crowd-funding sites such as CrowdPAC can pull in donations from around the country, and Rosser said he's already formed a core group of campaign workers with innovative ideas.
Facebook, Skype, telephone town halls and other electronic venues are the way to connect with young voters, he said, along with getting out to community events and, possibly, holding some concerts.
"I've also reached out to some Democratic coalitions and there's a lot more support there than I thought I would get," he said.
Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis is a longtime Democratic Party strategist. She currently works for VocalFi, a telephone town hall service for candidates around the country.
Davis said Wednesday she wouldn't be surprised to see at least one credible challenger in every congressional race next year.
"The interest in running for office across this country has never been stronger," she said. "A lot of people are frustrated with the politics of division; a lot of people want to see things get done."
Technology also is boosting grassroots movements. In her recent commission race, Davis said, she held two telephone town halls that reached 6,000 voters each.
"The tools of modern democracy are many and varied. Some of them are extremely affordable," she said. "Gone are the days when there had to be a smoke-filled room where candidates are selected."
Davis said at least five Democratic challengers are lined up to run in the Gwinnett-based 7th Congressional District, "which is almost as red as we are," and there could even be a contested primary in the 14th.
Rosser is, so far, the only one on board.
"I don't have a background in politics; I'm literally a janitor in a church right now. But I do my research. I know what I'm talking about," he said. "I've been wanting to enter politics for about two years. I'm sure there are more qualified candidates, but if nobody's going to take (Graves) on, why complain on Facebook?"
A Polk County grand jury indicted a man on 107 counts of felony aggravated cruelty to animals and 107 counts of felony dog fighting in a case which began with police discovering 70 dogs at a Cashtown Road address.
Devecio Ranard Rowland, 32, has remained in jail since his arrest in late August, at first on animal cruelty charges stemming from the discovery of 70 dogs on property he formerly owned at 569 Cashtown Road.
He alone was indicted in the case, which is expected to head to court in early 2018, Polk County District Attorney Jack Browning said.
Rowland also remained in jail without bond on additional 107 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals, probation violation, two more counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and a charge of conspiracy to commit a felony, according to the Polk County Jail's records.
Charges have been dropped on Candace Sorrells after the grand jury for Polk County declined to indict her.
Victor Long, an Atlanta-based attorney working on behalf of Sorrells, said today that her arrest would have been prevented had she been forthright with investigators when they arrived at her home in September. He added that his client maintains the dog found at her home that had just birthed a litter of puppies was not involved in the case at all, and is owned by her daughter.
"The dogs that were reported in her house were her daughter's dog and were given to her, and had nothing to do with the dogs that they alleged that was in the dog fighting situation," Long said.
Today's artwork is by Unity Christian School thirdgrader Isaiah Giddens.