Making a Happy Thanksgiving
Spc. Tiffany Smith places decorations on a mock cake. The cake will be a part of decorative arrangements for the Thanksgiving Day meal at a Fort Lee Dining Facility.

Fort Lee, Va. (Nov. 26, 2008) -- It could be at a remote desert outpost in Southwest Asia.

It may be near the line that separates the remnants of communism from that of the free world in the Far East. Or it could be deep amongst thousand-year-old oaks in the forests of Eastern Europe.

U.S. Army Soldiers stationed all over the world will gather with their comrades on Thanksgiving Day - some in crude settings and most in modern facilities - and dine on the traditional staples of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and yams.

It will be a joyous occasion for most, but Thanksgiving Day away from home often evokes melancholy thoughts of grandma's signature home-cooked meals and all the goodness that accompanies it.A,A

Sgt. 1st Class David Hernandez is the dining facility manager for the 49th Quartermaster Group Consolidated Dining Facility.A,A Hernandez certainly doesn't bring about warm thoughts of someone's grandmother on turkey day, but he's the next best thing. Hernandez will preside over the mammoth job of providing hundreds of meals and some semblance of home for military members who aren't fortunate enough to be with loved ones on Thanksgiving Day.

"I feel excited about it," said the 15-year Soldier who will endure his first Thanksgiving as a DFAC manager.A,A "I think we will surprise the command and the Soldiers."

Hernandez and his subordinates - 12 noncommissioned officers and more than 50 Soldiers - began planning for the big day several weeks out, but the ball really started to roll about a week ago.

"It starts and ends with the shift leaders," said Hernandez, "conveying the directives that are on the production schedules as far as prep times and cooking times."

Shift leaders are the drill sergeants of Army dining facilities. They head the front lines of food service crews responsible for the preparation of nearly 400 meals for Thanksgiving Day.A,A Those meals will include a few hundreds pounds of turkey, ham, prime rib and shrimp, as well as buckets of mashed potatoes, greens and stuffing. The number of meals served for the Thanksgiving meal is nearly double that of the typical lunchtime meal.

It's a pretty tall order for any DFAC, but Hernandez said three factors have a hand in helping crews to accomplish the mission: "Esprit de corps, effective communication and strength and honor," he said.A,A

"That's something we have adopted as our creed since I've been here.A,A It's a motivational tool that we use to make anything around here happen.A,A This is our Super Bowl.A,A It's a time of the year for all food service personnel to really show what we're made of and what we do."

There's no doubt about that. If Thanksgiving isn't the biggest day of the year for food service Soldiers, then grandma's buttermilk biscuits aren't worth the pan they were baked in.A,A They'll don their best cook whites, wear their widest grins, carve their best ice sculptures, adorn the walls with holiday decorations and create works of art out of mere cookie dough.A,A

Food service specialist Cpl. Joseph Williams said the Thanksgiving Day meal at the DFAC is mostly a show of pride in the profession.

"This is the meal you really take pride in," he said.A,A "You take pride in all of your meals, but this one is special. It has to stand out because this one is for the Soldiers who may not have Family or the money to go home.A,A (The DFAC) is their home so we want to try to make it as close to home as we can."

Hernandez, who said he has spent 15 Thanksgivings working at DFACs, said it takes a strong will to endure eight to 10-hour days, working in less than ideal conditions so someone else can have a decent meal. More importantly, it takes character to want to do it day in and day out. A,A

"Something I've seen here is that food service specialists come in with the strength to make it through each day," he said, "and after a long, tiring day, they go home with their honor intact to come back and again do what it is that they do best, especially on Thanksgiving.A,A It takes strength and honor to do this every day.A,A You can go anywhere in the world, and that's what you're going to see on Thanksgiving Day."A,A

On Thanksgiving Day, the many food service Soldiers and Civilians will lay out the red carpet, set the tables and let the flavors demonstrate to their constituency the meaning of pride in service.

"We'll be honored to have them spend their time here," said Hernandez. "They could spend it elsewhere, but they choose to come here, and that's an honor for any manager, any shift leader, any cook.A,A I'm honored to be a part of something great.A,A We're going to make history on Thanksgiving Day."A,A

Grandma wouldn't have it any other way.

Page last updated Wed November 26th, 2008 at 08:26