FORT HOOD, Texas - A day of turkey, cranberry sauce and getting stuffed pretty much sums up Thanksgiving for many soldiers and their families. But before the turkey coma can set in, an average family will typically prepare a turkey or ham, a few pounds of mashed potatoes, a dozen or more dinner rolls and a special delicacy the day or two before Thanksgiving.
However, cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for around 700 people takes a tad longer than a couple of days to prepare.
With that many people to serve, the Operation Iraqi Freedom Dining Facility (run by 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division) began preparations in mid-October for Thanksgiving. It’s one of the staff’s biggest cooking days of the year.
“This is not just your normal day,” said Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Carson, assistant manager, OIF DFAC. “It’s a day where we have to prep, to prep, before the prep.”
The OIF DFAC staff estimated an average of 700 people would attend Thanksgiving dinner this year. That meant a big order and some serious cooking would have to take place.
That order for Thanksgiving has taken on a more modern approach than that of the original Thanksgiving feast in 1621. The Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe consumed a variety of dishes including swan, goose, venison, lobster and pumpkin. The meal this Thanksgiving is based more off Family tradition.
“We ask ourselves, ‘what would Momma fix,’ and that’s what we prepare,” Carson said.
Turkey is the staple for most Thanksgivings, and the DFAC ordered several to satisfy the masses: 12 large turkeys, weighing an average of 15 pounds, and 10 smaller, 9–pound birds.
Accompanying the turkeys are 12 hams and two beef steamship roasts. Carson refers to the steamships as “brontosaurus roasts,” because of their size.
“We have to make it like home,” said Carson, a native of Laurel, Md.
The preparation of the meat starts about four days from Thanksgiving Day. The steamships marinate in a top-secret recipe. The turkeys and hams are laid out for thawing while some of the DFAC staff members start decorating.
Fall-colored streamers, small cartoon turkeys and pictures of the horn of harvest line the walls and hang above tables within the dining facility.
The preparation of large quantities of conventional side dishes begins three days from Thanksgiving.
A few soldiers begin sifting through the 60 pounds of ingredients to raise rolls overnight. Other popular sides on the menu are yams, 200 pounds worth to be exact – 100 pounds of potatoes and 80 pounds of shrimp for shrimp cocktails.
And no Thanksgiving meal would be complete without dessert. Pies will be in abundance — 25 pumpkin and another 25 pecan pies along with cakes, cookies and gallons of punch.
The day before Thanksgiving: 24-hour operations commence.
Forty soldiers will work various shifts throughout the night before, and the morning of Thanksgiving Day. Soldiers will make final preparations, finish hanging decorations and begin cooking the meats and sides.
Soldiers are split into teams responsible for cooking, for placing Thanksgiving decorations, for preparing a normal breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, and yet another team for any last minute details that may come up just before the doors are opened for Thanksgiving lunch.
Senior leadership throughout 3rd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. will be on hand in their Army Service Uniforms and Stetsons to serve Thanksgiving dinner.
The OIF DFAC is located on Battalion Avenue between 53rd and 58th Streets and will open its doors at 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.
Carson said the goal for the day will be to get the troops as full as can be.
“If we can get these soldiers to unbutton the top button of their pants,” Carson said, “then we know we did our job.”