FORT RILEY, Kan. - Spc. Jedediah Stewart hasn't been home for Thanksgiving in four years. Last year, he spent the holiday in Kuwait; this year at Demon Diner at Fort Riley.

"I think it's nice. I've actually been here at a chow hall for (Thanksgiving) dinner the past three years," he said.

Stewart, a Soldier with the 111th Engineer Company, 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, dined Nov. 25 with three other Soldiers who were unable to travel home for the holiday.

"I like to come down here for Thanksgiving," he said. "I usually come here for Christmas, too."

The food, this year, he said, was some of the best the dining facilities had to offer.

"I think on the holidays, they really step their game up ... all the DFACs do something special for the holidays."

Though not the same comforts of home, Stewart said he appreciated having something special for Thanksgiving. And that is what leaders at Fort Riley aimed to accomplish this Thanksgiving as Demon Diner, Devil's Den and Cantigny dining facilities hosted Thanksgiving meals.

The theme at one dining facility was "A Family Gathering."

"That's what the Army is for a lot of our younger Soldiers - is an extension of their Family," said Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Brown. "And when you have Soldiers from all over the United States on a day like this, that maybe can't get back home, this provides that home setting, a home-style meal and a place to gather with folks who really care about you and love you, even if it's not your immediate Family."

Taking care of Soldiers is a military tradition, Brown said. Senior leaders could be seen at the DFACs across post behind the serving lines, serving their Soldiers.

"We haven't lost track of our traditions," Brown said. "This is a very important part of the history and the legacy of our Army and our desire to hang on to things that make us the institution that we are. The leaders that have come in to serve or simply just be around their Soldiers, this is just one example of that.

Some came by themselves, others brought Family.

"All you have to do is look around the room right now and see how the Families are actually getting together and enjoying themselves with a great, great meal," said Gen. David Petersen, 1st Inf. Div. deputy commanding general - rear. It's just a good way to share the Army experience with the Families."

Maj. Larry Bergeron, operations officer in charge with the Directorate of Emergency Services, had not spent a Thanksgiving with his Family in two years because of training and deployments. This year, the Family, originally from Louisiana, decided to take it easy and stay at Fort Riley. They, too, dined at a dining facility on post.

"It's our first Thanksgiving together in two years, so it's an opportunity to share with Soldiers on post and just enjoy the good work that the post DFACs put together for us," Bergeron said.

His wife, Nicole, also was grateful for the Family meal.

"We missed a lot of holidays last year - Christmas and Thanksgiving - so it's nice that we're all together again, and we didn't have to fight to travel, so we get to spend this time together," she said.

Although the Family, which also includes sons Paul, 15, Zach, 11, and daughter, Caetlin, 1, spent a quiet Thanksgiving together this year, Bergeron said, in the past, his and Nicole's parents have come to visit the Family and for a meal at a post DFAC.

"They look forward to this as well," he said. "The food is always good."

While aiming to please visitors at the post DFACs, those working on Thanksgiving had another goal - to win the award for the Commanding General's Best Thanksgiving Dining Facility.

The honor went to Devil's Den on Custer Hill. Adorned in Thanksgiving garland and decorated with gingerbread houses, cornucopias, fall foliage, ice sculptures and a fully edible competition cake, Devil's Den served up a full Thanksgiving menu. Items on the menu were roast turkey, baked ham, Cornish hen, steamship round, fried catfish, shrimp cocktail, onion soup with croutons and broccoli soup.

Other items included savory bread and cornbread dressing; mashed potatoes; candied sweet potatoes; baked macaroni and cheese; seasoned green beans, carrots and corn on the cob; tomato, potato and garden salads; and assorted breads, cakes and pies.

"These folks have gone to great lengths to prepare some great food," Brown said. "The folks that are running these dining facilities have done a great job decorating it and giving it that homey atmosphere."

Brown was part of one of two judging teams. Brown, Petersen, 1st Inf. Div. Command Sgt. Maj. Darrell Wallace and Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Ian Mann composed one team. A second team, the technical team, was composed of Randy Zelenka, deputy logistics officer with the Mission Support Element; William Moore, food service quality assurance evaluator with the Food Service Division, Directorate of Logistics; and Sgt. 1st Class William McGinley, 1st Inf. Div. culinary manager.

"There's two sets of scores," Moore said. "The command group has their own score. They're looking at different criteria such as the theme, dAfAcor, leadership support - those kinds of things - while (the technical team) actually looks at food prep, sanitation. We also look at the displays and decorations and see if the team overall puts together what they're trying to do."

The technical team did a pre-evaluation Nov. 24 to observe set up and preparation. Both the technical team and the command group visited Demon Diner, Devil's Den and Cantigny dining facilities Nov. 25.

"It's a lot of hard work that goes into this - the decorating, the preparation - you know, this is not just a normal meal in the dining facility," Zelenka said. "This is their Super Bowl. It's the most special meal of the year, really, at the dining facility."

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