CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq (Army News Service, Nov. 21, 2007) - It can be hard for Soldiers deployed in Iraq to remember what day of the week it is sometimes, but troops visiting the dining facilities here Thursday will be sure to know it's Thanksgiving.

"The Thanksgiving Day dinner is the meal of meals for the Army," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shawn M. Malinowski, the food service advisor with Multi-National Division - Baghdad. "There is no money, no effort, nothing wasted on this day."

While dining facilities feed a lot of mouths at every meal they serve, they can expect to see a significant increase in that number on Thanksgiving Day, CWO4 Malinowski predicted.

The Pegasus Dining Facility, near the MND-B headquarters, served approximately 2,500 people Thanksgiving dinner last year, when only 1,500 people were served at an average meal. This year the dining facility is serving approximately 2,500 people at an average meal, so it can be expected to serve anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people for the holiday meal, CWO4 Malinowski said.

Unlike the average Turkey Day dinner at home, where most families don't even begin thinking about meal preparations until some time in November, planning a holiday meal for thousands can take months. Preparations for this meal began in July and August, CWO4 Malinowski said, and much of the food, including the turkey, had to be ordered ahead of time.

"The DFAC employees are working on their time, after shift, in the back (of the facility) making decorations such as cornucopias, gingerbread houses and fruit carvings," said CWO4 Malinowski. "They will bring them all out and set them up the night before."

In order to give direction to the holiday festivities, each dining facility focuses on one topic or theme related to Thanksgiving.

"Each dining facility has its own theme chosen by the manager," said Sgt. Maj. Terry L. Stewart, a Bridgehampton, N.Y., native and food service sergeant major for MND-B. Adding a competitive edge to the decorating helps to reward the DFAC workers for the time and effort they spend preparing their crafts.

"We give medals sent from Fort Hood to each of the commands that has a dining facility and they judge the decorations in their dining facility," said CWO4 Malinowski. "Workers within each DFAC compete against each other."

Being halfway around the world for a holiday traditionally spent at home around the family dinner table can bring Soldiers closer together.

"It humbles me," said Stewart. "Even though we are away from our families at home, those of us here are family, and we come together in fellowship and give thanks for being alive."

Helping to make sure those serving their country have a pleasant memory of the Thanksgiving they spend in Iraq is important to CWO4 Malinowski and Sgt. Maj. Stewart, who plan to greet everybody who comes through the Pegasus Dining Facility door this Thanksgiving.

"It's especially rewarding to see the Soldiers smile and the joy in their faces when they come through," said Sgt. Maj. Stewart. "They see the effort that the DFAC workers put into the meal."

(Pfc. April Campbell serves with the 27th Public Affairs Detachment.)