By Master Sgt. Matt Howard, Task Force Danger Public AffairsNovember 26, 2010
BASRA, Iraq - The plan was an ambitious one: visit 23 dining facilities spread over nine provinces in southern Iraq, an area the size of Washington state, in nine hours .
The 1st Infantry Division command team, also known as the "Victory 5," visited almost every camp, base and airfield in the United States Division-South operating environment to talk to and eat with USD-S personnel on Thanksgiving Day.
Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, 1st Inf. Div. Commanding General, Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Champagne, division command sergeant major, Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, deputy commanding general for support, Brig. Gen. Ricky Gibbs, deputy commanding general for maneuver, and Col. Richard Piscal, division chief of staff, each visited multiple dining facilities, serving food and chatting with Soldiers.
"Our Soldiers serve us every day, and we just take this opportunity, on a day of thanks, to thank them by serving them ourselves," Brooks said.
The locations they served the troops ranged from tiny joint security stations on the Iranian border with less than a hundred people to massive U.S. hubs that house several thousand people.
"This is unprecedented," said Sgt. Maj. Juan Abreu, the 1st Infantry Division's food services sergeant major. "As far as I know, this has never been done before."
Abreu and Chief Warrant Officer Eunice Buffington spent months planning the mission with the 1st Infantry Division's aviation section. Four sets of aircraft were dedicated for the day, logging thousands of miles to successfully complete the mission.
The visits were appreciated by the troops.
"They've done a good job of capturing the feeling and spirit of Thanksgiving here in Iraq," said Pfc. Zack Davidson of Reston, Va., while dining on deep fried turkey at Camp Garryowen in Maysan Province.
"It's one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had," agreed Pfc. Armando DeLeon of Brownsville, Texas. "It's an amazing day for us ... having a fun time with all of our comrades."
As the 1st Infantry Division's command team toured southern Iraq, they weren't alone. The 1st Inf. Div. Band's brass quintet and rock bands accompanied Brooks and Champagne respectively, setting up, performing 20-30 minute sets and then racing to the helicopters for the next stop.
"The bands were really the unsung heroes of the day. They played first, they ate last," said Abreu. "They worked really hard and the Soldiers really enjoyed it."
Cooks also worked overtime to create a special Thanksgiving for the troops.
Spc. James Grantham, a cook at Joint Security Station Al Sheeb on the Iranian border, stayed up all night before Thanksgiving preparing the feast and the decorations.
"I try to put my heart into it," said Grantham. "It's not easy, but to see their faces after I get the job done it just makes me feel good. It's not just for Thanksgiving, it's every day when I cook a meal. It makes me feel good to see their faces smile and no complaints."
By 7 pm, with thousands of Soldiers fed, and thousands of miles logged, the Victory 5 converged on Basra's Fighting First Dining Facility for their final stop, serving the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division Headquarters.