By Dijon Rolle, USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg Public Affairs November 20, 2012
MANNHEIM, Germany - Sgt. Christopher Balles took one last look at the numerous boxes of inventory lining the walls of a refrigeration unit outside of the Coleman Consolidated Dining Facility in Mannheim.
The blasts of arctic air help keep the many boxes of turkeys, vegetables and other Thanksgiving fare perfectly preserved until the big day.
Balles is in charge of the ration's section and was responsible for ordering the many pounds of sweet potatoes, turkeys, hams, rib-eye steaks, macaroni and other holiday staples guests will enjoy on Thursday.
For Balles and the rest of the Coleman culinary team, this year's meal will take on an even greater importance. Due to the DFAC's scheduled closure next year, this will be the last Thanksgiving meal held here.
"To me, having our team help close it out ... is a blessing because Mannheim is known for a lot of things and for a lot of history. Being able to just talk to some of [the] cooks that have been here for several years and to listen to them talk about how much the facility has changed has also been a blessing," said Coleman Consolidated DFAC Manager Staff Sgt. Jaime Whyte.
Balles and Whyte have been planning for this meal since October and expect to feed between 500-600 people Thanksgiving day.
With all of the ordering completed, Balles admitted he didn't feel very much pressure. This is his sixth Thanksgiving as a Soldier.
"We know what we have to do and as long as they come in, and they enjoy it, I know that our mission has been completed," he said. "If they leave with a smile and a full belly, we're happy."
A team of Soldiers and local national contractors began cooking on Monday.
"We started getting our cakes together, which takes a lot of time, baking, setting up. Then we started assembling all of the different baskets and breads and the different decorations that have to be baked, cooled and placed everywhere," Whyte said.
"We'll start cooking the main items that people will eat at 4 a.m. Thanksgiving day," Whyte added.
The staff selected menu items based on customer feedback from last year's meal and by including familiar foods commonly found on most Thanksgiving dinner tables.
"I want everyone to be comfortable, be at peace and enjoy themselves [and] eat all they can. Even though it's a dining facility, we want this to feel like their home," Whyte said.
According to Whyte, the Coleman DFAC is scheduled to close sometime between late January and early February 2013. No confirmed date has been announced yet.
"We may or may not have the Christmas meal. But if we do have a Christmas meal, it will be pretty basic. There will be a lot less troops to feed and the contractors will be working on half-day schedules," she added.
The Thanksgiving meal at Coleman Consolidated Dining Facility will be served 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Nov.22.