HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - Thanksgiving is a time to be with loved ones, give thanks for our blessings and, of course, to eat copious amounts of delicious food. That is just what took place in the Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield dining facilities, Nov. 24-25.
The annual Thanksgiving DFAC competition took place at four dining facilities on the installation - the Ranger DFAC at Hunter, 3rd Sustainment Brigade's Provider DFAC, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team's Spartan DFAC and the 3rd Infantry Division Special Troops Battalion DFAC at Stewart, Nov. 24. The NCO Academy also took part in the competition, with their dinner taking place, Nov. 22.
The DFACs were decorated festively, with cornucopias, ginger bread houses, fall-themed cakes and many staff member dressed as Pilgrims and Native Americans. The Provider DFAC took it one step further - with live turkeys, in cages of course, greeting diners as they walked up to the doors.
The competition, judged by two groups who went to each of the facilities, had five categories - best cuisine, best dessert, best center piece, best ice sculpture and best fallen comrade display. There was also an award for best overall facility - which went to the Provider DFAC.
"The 3rd Sustainment Brigade put on a good show," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Liggon, G-4 Division Food Service. "You could tell they went the extra mile."
The traditional Thanksgiving fare was served at all dining facilities- turkey, potatoes, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie - along with an array of non-traditional selections, including beef roast, shrimp cocktail, grilled asparagus and more.
"The food was very good at all of the dining facilities," said Chief Warrant Officer Liggon. "This (competition) gives food service workers the chance to show off and hone their skills."
According to Chief Warrant Officer Liggon, about 17 military personnel are chosen from the competition to represent the Fort Stewart Culinary Team, which competes at the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va., in March.
For the leaders serving during the meal, they used the feast to show their appreciation to their Soldiers.
"I'm here because the officers did it for me when I was a private, and it's great for esprit de corps," said 1st Lt. Anthony Joyner, of 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, as he topped off diner's desserts with whipped topping at the Spartan DFAC. "It's a nice thing to do, to thank them for what they do, even if it's just to give them a piece of pie."
The Spartan DFAC was awarded best dessert.
The winner of the best centerpiece and best decorations was the Provider DFAC, with a wide-array of decorated cakes and edible displays.
"We started working (on this) about three weeks ago," said Staff Sgt. James Arrington, 3rd Sustainment Bde. food service. "Most of the cakes were made in the last two or three days, but the other things, like the gingerbread houses and the cornucopias, they were made in advance."
Staff Sergeant Arrington, part of a six-person team that worked on the culinary arts displays, said that the pieces were stored in large refrigerators until they were ready to be displayed during the meal.
The winner of the "Best Fallen Comrade" display was the Ranger DFAC. The display was set up by Susie Stephens-Harvey, President of the Georgia Committee for POW/MIA Inc.
"It was an honor for me to set the tables up," she said. "Just to have been asked to do this display meant a lot to me."
For Stephens-Harvey, setting up the tables is a personal remembrance. On Sept. 26, 1967, her brother Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Geist, Army Special Forces, was reported missing in Vietnam. He is still one of the 1,300 not accounted for to this day.
"For me, it's an honor to remind people that the price of freedom is not free," she said. "And we must remember to remember that dying for freedom isn't the worst that could happen - being forgotten is."
The Ranger DFAC was also awarded best ice sculpture for their "Ranger Scroll," and best cuisine.
In the end, the meal was a way for leaders to thank their Soldiers, and for the cooks to put their skills on display.
"Cooks are unsung heroes of the Army," Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Ashmen, 3rd ID command sergeant major, said to the staff at the Provider DFAC. "You work seven days a week, and we appreciate what you do for our Soldiers.
During the Thanksgiving lunch meal, Nov. 24, the four Stewart-Hunter dining facilities served 1,167 patrons.
"For customers, good food in an expression of our value for them," said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, 3rd ID deputy commanding general. "Good food is another way in which we can show our Soldiers, Families and Army Civilians that they're valued."