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 a 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 Army Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Carson, the dining facility’s assistant manager. “It’s a day where we have to prep, to prep, before the prep.”
The dining facility’s staff estimated an average of 700 people would attend Thanksgiving dinner this year. That meant a big food order and some serious cooking would have to take place.
Thanksgiving today has taken on a more modern approach than the original Thanksgiving feast in 1621. The Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe consumed a variety of dishes including swan, goose, venison, lobster and pumpkin. This year’s Thanksgiving meal here will be based on contemporary family home cooking traditions.
“We ask ourselves, ‘What would Momma fix?’ and that’s what we’ll prepare,” Carson said.
Turkey is the staple for most American Thanksgivings and the dining facility ordered 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 before Thanksgiving Day. The roasts marinate in a top-secret recipe. The turkeys and hams are laid out for thawing while some members of the dining facility’s staff start decorating.
Fall-colored streamers, small cartoon turkeys and other decorations line the dining facility’s walls and hang above the tables.
The preparation of large quantities of conventional side dishes also begins before Thanksgiving.
There are 60 pounds of ingredients used to make rolls. Other popular sides on the menu include 200 pounds of yams, 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.
Around-the-clock operations will commence the day before Thanksgiving. Soldiers will make final preparations, finish hanging decorations and begin cooking the meats and side dishes.
Soldiers are split into teams responsible for cooking, for placing decorations, and for preparing a normal breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. Yet another team is on hand for any last-minute details that may come up just before the doors are opened for Thanksgiving lunch.
Senior leadership will be on hand in their Army service uniforms and Stetsons to serve Thanksgiving dinner.
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, then we know we did our job,” he said.