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Clockwise from top left: Spc. Crystal Gordon stirs a pot of Jamaican rice and beans as 2nd Brigade Combat Team culinary specialists work through the night to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers and family members Nov. 21 at Fort Drum. Spc. Shaheed Henry, a culinary specialist with 2nd BCT, pours glaze over a ham at the Commando Warrior Restaurant. Culinary specialists with 2nd Brigade Combat Team work overnight to prepare a Thanksgiving feast and decorate the Commando Warrior Restaurant in time for the meal service. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Fort Drum culinary specialists create festive Thanksgiving meal for Soldiers, family members

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y.  (Nov. 21, 2023) – Cooking up a sumptuous feast is a pre-Thanksgiving tradition for culinary specialists across the 10th Mountain Division (LI).

Succulent turkey and ham, boats of hot gravy and tart cranberry sauce, cold shrimp cocktails, and an array of pies and other desserts enticed Soldiers and family members to dine at any of the Warrior Restaurants on post Nov. 21.

At 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s Commando Warrior Restaurant, the team worked around the clock to cook the holiday meal and decorate the facility.

Feeding hundreds of community members required quite an extravagant shopping list, which included 12 turkeys, two whole pigs, 100 pounds of ham, 75 pounds of oxtail, 70 pounds of salmon, and 20 pounds of beef kabobs.

“Soldiers were seasoning the meats a full 48 hours prior, so it would really marinate and get all the flavors going,” said Sgt. Samantha Cebelak, Commando Warrior Restaurant assistant manager. “We really concentrated on the flavors for our Thanksgiving menu and making food that will remind people of home.”

Sgt. Evaleshia Brady’s baking shift started at 7 p.m. Nov. 20, and she worked into the night on a giant cake with vanilla buttercream and apricot filling. Along with Spc. Marcia Lidell, they made cupcakes, tiramisu, Bavarian crème custard, sweet potato pies, and apple pies.

“I love doing this,” Brady said. “This is actually my sixth Thanksgiving here. It’s one of our busiest days, so we have to be on our ‘A’ game.”

She said it is a bit challenging this year with many of the 2nd BCT culinary specialists on deployment.

“We have to work twice as hard, and longer, to cover the job,” Brady said.

Despite the long hours, she said it is satisfying work.

“I’m ready to sleep and recover – my feet are hurting, everything is hurting – but we are pushing through it,” Brady said. “It’s worth it because this is our way to show our expertise and let loose our creativity.”

Cebelak said the culinary specialists showed unrestrained imagination on the décor, which centered on popular horror films. They crafted snakes, severed appendages and other spooky stuff out of fondant and a Rice Krispie mix, and Soldiers designed a “Beetlejuice” backdrop where the 10th Mountain Division Band performed during the meal service.

“We have really talented Soldiers who built structures and signs and made posters with intricate details,” Celebak said. “So, we are lucky there are some artists within our formation.”

Spc. Wesley Brown put his graphic design education to work on artwork based on the “It” film and then applied his culinary training to making honey garlic glazed salmon. Spc. Mark Wautier created a “Saw”-inspired room where patrons could test their horror film knowledge in a “Jeopardy”-styled game.

In past years, the Commando Warrior Restaurant was decorated with Disney and Marvel themes, but Wautier said they wanted to surprise patrons with an entirely different approach.

“We didn’t do anything special for Halloween last month, so we thought this would be a fun experience,” he said.

Sgt. Shunnaurtica George started last Friday on sketching a scary front entrance design to welcome patrons to the Commando Horror Restaurant. By Monday, she was painting the hallway with a palette of colors.

“I do this all the time, drawing and painting,” she said.

She was also responsible for roasting and barbecuing two whole pigs, which is also in her comfort zone.

“I’m country,” George said. “I’m from a small town in Albany, Georgia, and cleaning and cooking a pig is like nothing for me.”

George has served as an Army culinary specialist for four years, but this is her first Thanksgiving meal service at Fort Drum.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “Day and night. But it means a lot to us because we are able to showcase our talents – our culinary skills and creativity. People will see the passion that the Soldiers put into their work. Hopefully they will love the experience here, because we just want to make everyone comfortable and happy.”

Every year, Warrior Restaurant staffs from each brigade compete for bragging rights as the best-decorated facility on post. (Winners will be announced Nov. 22). The Commando Warrior Restaurant won last year with a circus theme.

“This is basically our Super Bowl,” Cebelak said. “We compete every day to be the best dining facility at Fort Drum, but for this holiday meal we compete for the trophy. It’s a great opportunity for culinarians from each brigade to show what they are capable of. They have pride in their work, and they want everyone to share in this outstanding, delicious meal.”

Photos of the 2nd BCT culinary specialists preparing the Thanksgiving meal at Commando Warrior Restaurant are available at www.flickr.com/photos/drum10thmountain/albums/72177720312830205.