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Operation Home Cooking brings Thanksgiving to Air Force trainees

One family helps a group of Air Force trainees feel at home for the holidays, even as they're hundreds of miles away from their real homes.

SAN ANTONIO — One family helps a group of Air Force trainees feel at home for the holidays, even as they're hundreds of miles away from their real homes.

While most people spend Thanksgiving with their families, every year many young people in the armed services spend their first holidays away from their homes.

That's the case on Thursday for Samson Lam. Family has always been a big part of his holidays.

"You know that feeling when everyone is gathered and you're sitting around the table with your family members," he said. "The best of the holidays for me is being able to see every one of their faces of the ones I love."

This Thanksgiving, he's not at his family's kitchen table in Georgia. He's seeing them through a screen, 1,000 miles away.

"They said they missed me, that everything back home was the same," Lam said. "They miss that big brother presence."

For Lam, and many other young people, this Facetime or phone call means a lot. They've spent the past five weeks in San Antonio for Air Force basic training, with limited access to phones and social media— part of a strict routine.

But today is different, because of people like Michael Estrada.

"They (the trainees) don't work," Estrada said. "They can sit back, enjoy the parade, the football games. And they're the first to eat when the food's all ready."

Estrada is hosting Thanksgiving for four trainees he's never met. It's part of the program Operation Home Cooking, an initiative he's taken part in for the last 26 years.

He's no stranger to service, and knows the holidays without family can be tough.

"I was in the military for 20 years, never saw them except for an occasional visit. So, to me, family is super important, because I was gone for so long," he said.

To give these trainees a much-needed day off, Estrada has recruited four generations of his own family to help; everyone in the house hoping to make the trainees feel at home.

"Being here, with a different feeling, really gave me a similar feeling to that," Lam said.

There's no replacement for mom and dad at Thanksgiving dinner. But even though these trainees are far from home, they're not necessarily without family.