WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 22, 2011) -- Soldiers worldwide, including those at more than 270 dining facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, can give thanks for a familiar taste of home this week on Thanksgiving.

About 168,000 pounds of turkey, 37,800 pounds of stuffing, 93,876 pounds of beef, 43,560 pounds of sweet potatoes, 24,000 pounds of shrimp, 34,560 pies and 25,800 pounds of cranberry sauce -- along with other holiday treats -- were shipped to troops overseas by the Defense Logistics Agency.


As the U.S. military mission winds down in Iraq, Soldiers enjoyed an early Thanksgiving dinner at Camp Victory in Baghdad Nov. 20 because the last dining facility at the base closed at the end of the day, in preparation for all troops to depart by the end of next month.

Soldiers and contractors, about 6,600 still at Camp Victory, dined at tables decorated with colorful paper turkeys and "Happy Thanksgiving" signs hanging overhead.

The menu included crab legs, turkey, ham, dressing, yams, green beans, rolls, corn bread, mashed potatoes, and a variety of deserts.

But following the holiday feast, Soldiers knew they would need to make do with field rations.

Soldiers said the last cooked meal was actually a good thing, because it's a sure sign that they will soon be returning home to families.


Back in the states, Thanksgiving can mean a fight of a different kind, such as at the one at Fort Jackson, S.C., where dining facilities are competing to bring the best culinary experience to Soldiers.

The Best Decorated Dining Facility Competition benefits both the Soldiers and the dining facility staff, said Robert Cook, a contest judge with the Directorate of Logistics.

"Thanksgiving is the Army's big day for the Soldiers. You might not always have a big crowd for Christmas, but you will for Thanksgiving," Cook said. "That's when the food service personnel get to show off their expertise and all of the things they've learned at culinary schools or different training."

Each dining facility selects a theme for their decorations and prepares a traditional Thanksgiving menu for the team of three judges to sample.

"This year our theme is 'Thanking the American Farmer,'" said Gregory Anderson, the manager of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment Dining Facility.

"No one thinks of the farmer that gets up at 3 a.m. to take care of animals and does all of the things that need to be done in order to make sure people have what they need. Farms are an important part of our lives."

Anderson and his staff will also be preparing a special carving station for Soldiers this year as part of their menu.

"We're doing a beef roast steamship round in a carving station. It is 300 pounds of roast and it takes about eight hours to cook in the oven."

Anderson and his staff of 80 feed about 1,200 Soldiers each day during the basic training cycle. He said that he enjoys every part of this competition that he has been participating in for the last seven years.

"I enjoy the whole thing; doing the displays and preparing the food," Anderson said. "But the look on the Soldiers' faces when they come through to see it for the first time, that's amazing."


In El Paso, Texas, Soldiers from the 15th Sustainment Brigade served a Thanksgiving meal, Nov. 16, to Polk Elementary School students and their parents, as well as participated in a physical education class with third and fifth graders.

The Soldiers were taking part in the Fort Bliss Partnerships in Education Program. The program provides an ongoing supplemental resource for 27 schools in El Paso to promote educational excellence and support programs in preparation for lifelong learning.

"This is a new and awesome experience," said Staff Sgt. Juan Valdez, the land and ammunition manager for the 15th Special Troops Battalion. "Doing things like this really gets me excited. I can definitely see myself doing this more as the opportunities arise."

Valdez was not the only Soldier who enjoyed himself that day. Spc. Jason Rogers, a truck driver with the 47th Transportation Company, had a blast as well.

"This was really cool," said Rogers. "It's really educational for both the kids and the parents. It gives them both the opportunity to ask questions that they don't know about the military."

It involves thousands of Soldiers, civilian employees, and their families in school activities designed to improve educational achievement and keep students in school and on track.

Micaela Varela, the school's principal, has seen this partnership grow over the last seven years she has been at the school. This is her third year as the principal; she spent the previous four as the assistant principal.

"Our current partnership with the 15th SB is the strongest since I have been here," said Varela. "Since this is a military town, it is important for the kids to interact with the service members. It's great to see the volunteer presence here at the school."

The partnership between the unit and the school is very important, said Varela. The school has some military children with parents that are currently deployed. Seeing someone else in uniform every now and then helps the children out.

"We are a very tight-knit community here at Polk," said Varela. "We take care of each other when someone in our extended family is gone."

While the school is on the west side of El Paso, it is starting to see more and more military families because of the expansion to Fort Bliss, said Varela.

"This is just the start of what we would like to do throughout the year," she continued. "We have a whole list of activities that the faculty, staff and students would love to see the Soldiers participate in."


In Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Nov. 18, hundreds of children 5 to 11 years old participated in interactive performances featuring Debbie Fink and pianist/vocalist Molly Ann Khatcheressian as part of Operation Thanksgiving Eagle.

The tour, which will travel throughout Germany, is sponsored by the USO and BAE Systems and centers around the children's book "It's a Family Thanksgiving".

The book's author, Debbie Fink, director of Operation Thanksgiving Eagle, has written numerous books and scripts, and leads this educational experience with her fiddle in hand.

The performance covers five centuries of Thanksgiving's history, weaving children's participation throughout. Students acted out Thanksgiving history's heroes and heroines; sang to music; and followed the visual scenery.

"Operation Thanksgiving Eagle is a voice of gratitude for our children of the military during our nation's season of gratitude," said Fink. "These kids deserve boundless gratitude. They sacrifice so much, and don't give it a second thought, since this is what they know. They're 'serving our country by proxy,' and we owe it to them to recognize this service.

"Thanking them publicly -- while connecting them personally to our nation's past, present, and future -- will hopefully fill their hearts with a bit more fuel as they enter the Thanksgiving season. And they'll surely be the most educated at their table about Thanksgiving's history!"

(Cursha Pierce-Lunderman at Fort Jackson, Staff Sgt. Casey McGeorge in El Paso, Texas and Andrea Sok of the USO contributed to this report.)