By Sgt. Matthew C. Cooley, 15th Sustainment Brigade Public AffairsDecember 9, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - Ice sculptures glistened next to massive 3-D cakes. Thousands of Soldiers listened to Christmas music performed by a jazz band while feasting on turkey, ham, dressing, and more. Soldiers dressed as Native Americans, pilgrim settlers, and even a turkey roamed about taking pictures with others.
Thanksgiving had come to Contingency Operating Location Q-West.
The 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), operated dining facility hosted Thanksgiving dinner for U.S. and Iraqi service members and civilian contractors working on base from around the world here Nov. 26.
For Sgt. Brenda Berger, a Raleigh, Miss., native and battle desk noncommissioned officer for A Company, 106th Brigade Support Battalion, this was her second Thanksgiving in Iraq.
"I don't particularly like it ... it's just part of the deal," she said.
Master Sgt. Vanessa Price, a Shreveport, La., native and senior food management NCO in charge, said that they tried to provide a feeling of home, although it was not like grandma's cooking.
"[The cooks] worked a lot of late hours. A lot of them had only maybe one or two hours of sleep," she said, referring to the night before Thanksgiving.
"It's all worth it just to see the smiling faces," she said.
Their hard work didn't go unnoticed either.
"It's a nice change from the everyday thing," Berger said.
"The ice sculptures are really nice. I never had ice sculptures at my Thanksgiving before!"
"They did an awesome job on the decorations!" Spc. Willie Copeland, a B Company, 2nd Battalion, 198th Combined Arms Brigade, convoy security driver and Senatobia, Miss., native said.
He agreed with Berger that it was hard to be away from family and friends back home during this time of year, but the cooks' efforts to make Thanksgiving better for the Soldiers helped.
"Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl for us cooks," Pfc. Daniel Rivera, an Apple Valley, Calif., resident from Ceiba, Puerto Rico, and 15th Sust. Bde. cook, said.
Rivera, with coaching and assistance from Sgt. 1st Class Jason Cecil, a Nashville, Tenn., native and DFAC manager, carved several ice sculptures including a horse's head like the one in the 15th's patch.
"[It makes you feel good] if you can sit down, eat a good meal, and have good art made by the same cooks who cook your meals every day," Rivera said.
According to Cpl. Joseph Williams, a Baton Rouge, La., native and 15th cook, most of the preparation work was done by the scores of civilian contract workers at the DFAC.
"A lot of these people don't get the recognition that they should," Williams said.
"They work real hard."
Workers like Sixto Jimenez, a San Jose Del Monte, Philippines, native and head baker for the dining facility here, who made all ten of the decorative cakes at the feast with assistance from his baking team, a process that took him five days while carrying out his normal daily duties.
"I didn't focus on that only," Jimenez said in a thick Filipino accent.
"If I have free time, I make one."
Jimenez, a baker for U.S. forces in Iraq for four years, said that he was excited to have so many people enjoy his work.
Around 3,000 pounds of meat, including 1,920 pounds of turkey, were cooked for the feast, Price said.
Although the feast was a lot of work, doing more with less is business as usual for these cooks.
"The kitchen has a feeding capacity of 3,500 and we feed 13,000 a day," Staff Sgt. Ron Adams, a Danielson, Conn., native and DFAC assistant manager said.
At the end of the meal, many were reminded of the day's main theme - giving thanks.
Berger said she could think of a long list of things to be thankful for.
"I'm thankful that in about 90 days I'll be going home [and] our company has had no major injuries or deaths," she said.
She smiled and added, "And the Saints have a perfect season so for!"
Copeland also said he had something to be thankful for.
"I'm thankful to be alive ... to enjoy thanksgiving."