Food service Soldiers prepare for Thanksgiving meal
Spc. Carlton Wesley, food service specialist, slices beef for a stew to serve to patrons at the Patton Barracks Dining Facility in Heidelberg, Germany. Wesley and his fellow Soldiers expect to feed 400-500 people on Thanksgiving day.

HEIDELBERG, Germany - Customary orange, red, brown and yellow crepe streamers hang from the ceiling of the Patton Barrack's dining facility in Heidelberg as patrons enjoy a little casual conversation or steal a glance or two at a nearby television screen in between bites.

The streamers are the only telltale signs of the transformation that will take place here this time next week.

Staff Sgt. Willie Wilkins, assistant dining facility manager, and his Soldiers are in the final stages of planning for this year's Thanksgiving meal. The facility expects to feed between 400-500 Soldiers, civilians and families.

To pull off the feat, Wilkins and his crew will need at least six turkeys, 20 pies, 300 cookies, 67 pounds of sweet potatoes, 24 pounds of macaroni noodles and a galore of other tasty holiday goodies and side dishes.

Planning for the annual meal began earlier this year, as the staff reviewed the menu from last year, created a "wish list" and placed orders for the items they wanted to serve this Thanksgiving.

Selections on the menu this year will be turkey, prime rib, ham, Cornish hens, collard greens, dressing, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and apple and pecan and pumpkin pies and more.

Wilkins has only been here a little over six months but he already has nearly a decade of experience in Army food service under his belt and that same experience has helped the North Carolina native remain cool as the big day approaches.

"I have confidence in my Soldiers and I know they'll do their job. We'll all jump in there to get it done. We'll be good," Wilkins said.

And to get it done the Soldiers will have to work in two separate shifts starting the day before. One team will be responsible for starting the meal preparations, while a second team will come in several hours later to finish up the last of the cooking and to help get all the items ready to serve.

One of those Soldiers will be Spc. Carlton Wesley.

"This is where we shine right here. This day and I'd say the Army birthday is a close second. This is the day where people come and they bring their families and they get to see what we do," the food service specialist said. "When you come in the night before, you're cooking all night almost nonstop. During the meal itself, it can be pretty hectic because you're getting pulled in every direction, 'Hey we need this, and hey we need that, did we make enough' Do we have enough'' But once it's all done, it's like 'good job' and you get pats on the back from everywhere. It's a really good feeling especially being over here and knowing you helped to give the Soldiers that little piece of home."

As part of the Army's long-standing tradition, senior military leaders from local units will again don their dress blues to serve Soldiers and families.

"I feel great because originally we weren't supposed to serve the meal on Thanksgiving. We were supposed to do it on the 24th," Wilkins said. "I'm an NCO and I'm all about Soldiers and I want to do whatever it takes to take care of them. I remember how it was when I first came in and being away from my family. So anything we can do to make these Soldiers feel more comfortable as far as being away from their families, I'm all for it. It's going to be a great meal and we invite everyone to come out."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16