Lt. Gen. Michael A. Bills, Eighth Army commanding general; Brig. Gen. Kim Tae Up, Eighth Army deputy commanding general; and Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Schmidt, Eighth Army command sergeant major, visited soldiers of CTF Defender, served Thanksgiving meals and recognized those who prepared it.
Combined Task Force Defender is a battalion-sized unit comprised of about 50 percent Republic of Korea soldiers and 50 percent U.S. soldiers, operating at CP Carroll Forward Operating Site (FOS) in Songju, South Korea.
Additionally, Col. Richard W. Wright, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade commander and Command Sgt. Maj. Wilfredo Suarez, 35th ADA Brigade command sgt. Maj.; traveled to visit with the soldiers and serve them meals, alongside 2-1 ADA Battalion's command team, Lt. Col. Geoff Cole and Command Sgt. Maj. Wheeler; and CTF Defender Officer in Charge, Lt. Col. Andrea Sampson, CTF Defender Sgt. Maj. Jose Ramirez and D-2 Commander, Capt. Kate Theilacker.
"CTF Defender has come a long way over the past 12 months," said 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade Commander, Col. Richard W. Wright. "Every day, every week, every month, we continue to see improvements here. It just keeps getting better and better this Thanksgiving dinner is just one of many firsts that has taken place here and I know we can expect many more firsts from the Soldiers of CTF Defender."
The Thanksgiving meal marked the grand opening of the Sky Hill Dining Facility, and marked another historic milestone for CTF Defender, the Dragon Brigade, the Air Defense Branch, and the Army as the Dragon Brigade continues to proudly serve the citizens of the Republic of Korea and the United States and brought both US and ROK soldiers together to share a meal.
The Dragon Brigade has been working toward this day for the past year where soldiers could enjoy a Thanksgiving meal prepared in their own dining facility. In early October 2017, D-2 assumed responsibilities of FOS Carroll and its air defense assets. D-2 reflagged under the 35th ADA on October 19, 2017. With the reflagging of D-2 a small, yet senior level staff was necessary to provide mission command for the Soldiers operating on FOS Carroll and CTF Defender. Since its initial deployment CTF Defender has grown and is not composed of elements from D-2 Battery, Echo 6-52 Battery, 304th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, a 12 person staff, and multiple other units from the Indo-PACOM region along with one battalion from the Republic of Korea Army.
Sgt. Darren Bailey, serves as the dining facility's manager, and said he and his team put in a lot of work preparing the special meal. Bailey and 35th ADA Brigade food service officer Chief Warrant Officer 2 River Mitchell, worked around the clock since Tuesday, only napping a few hours at a time when they could.
"Preparing this meal was quite labor intensive and involved a lot of attention to detail," Bailey said. "It was pretty fun, and rewarding to cook for the ROK army."
Bailey's soldiers, Pv2 Arturo Cortez, Pv2 Ian Dick, and Pv2 Francisco Mendoza worked tirelessly to prepare the meal. The team prepped for over 300 people, which included prepping turkeys, seasoning meats, cracking lobster, and setting up the dining area. The junior soldiers said they learned a lot from Mitchell and Bailey.
Dining area decorations included a roaring fireplace displayed on a large screen TV at the end of the room. As one diner commented, it made him feel warm inside.
Pfc. Griffin Lapeyrouse, a vehicle mechanic with CTF Defender, was very impressed with the meal and the dining area. The fireplace and the new tables and chairs was what he noticed first. But then he saw the serving line.
"I was very impressed with all the different meats, and I was surprised how good the potatoes with vegetables was," Lapeyrouse said. "When I saw the lamb, I was like 'Wow!' Gordon Ramsey must be cooking for us."
Many soldiers serving overseas are spending Thanksgiving away from family. For many at CTF Defender, it was their first. For others, it was one of many Thanksgivings away from home. For Lapeyrouse, it is his second Thanksgiving away from loved ones; last year he spent the holiday at Basic Training.
"I try not to think about being away from home too much," he said. "I try to take one day at a time. It is Thanksgiving here today, and it will be Thanksgiving tomorrow back home. So I'm trying to enjoy my Thanksgiving and then share in their Thanksgiving tomorrow."
The work put in by Sgt. Bailey and his team to serve a delicious meal in a warmly decorated dining room helped make a Thanksgiving away from home a bit easier. A visit from the Eighth Army command team, as well as the 35th ADA Brigade command team, is a reminder for each soldier that they are cared and appreciated for all they do.