Culinary specialists across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) cooked up a Thanksgiving feast Nov. 26 for thousands of Fort Drum Soldiers and Family Members at the four dining facilities on post. The culinary teams worked overnight to cook, bake and decorate, and some of the work was labored on for days ahead of time. Senior leaders had the honor of operating the serving stations to carve, slice and scoop up hearty portions of the holiday meal. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Culinarians cook up Thanksgiving feast for thousands
of 10th Mountain Division Soldiers, Family Members
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 27, 2019) – Culinary specialists across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) concentrated all of their skills and efforts into decorating their dining facilities and cooking up a memorable Thanksgiving spread Nov. 26 to get everyone in the holiday mood at Fort Drum.
Each culinary team chose a different theme to inspire their menus and displays that tested their creativity and ability to cook “the Super Bowl of all meals” under time constraints.
“In the 92G (culinary specialist) world, this is our Super Bowl,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Mahon, 10th Mountain Division (LI) Sustainment Brigade Dining Facility manager. “I know it’s cliché and everyone uses it, but it’s the best way to describe today. For Soldiers who aren’t going home, this is their Thanksgiving, and for everyone else who gets to go home, this is a good meal to send them off with, and we take pride in that.”
The Muleskinners DFAC was adorned with a classic Thanksgiving décor – lots of fall foliage, turkeys and cornucopias – to create a warm, inviting environment.
One of the highlights was a giant “Climb to Glory” cake with intricately designed unit insignias to represent all Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. Mahon said that an accomplished group of bakers worked two full days to create it.
“To do a cake this well, you’ve got to have practice, patience and skill,” he said. “It’s not for everyone, and I know I can’t do a cake this well. It’s an art, and they did a really great job.”
They also created a gingerbread village that took roughly 10 hours to design and assemble.
Mahon said that most of the cooking began the night before and continued up until serving time just before noon.
“It’s not an easy job at all,” he said. “The meats just got done about 5 o’clock this morning with the last of them just getting in the ovens. Then after that, we have to get the rest of the baking done – the cookies and the pies, the breads – all the starches and vegetables, the gravies and soups. It’s constant. Once something leaves the oven, something else is going in, all day, 24 hours.”
Mahon said that it’s quite an achievement for every culinary specialist involved to cook the Thanksgiving meal.
“It takes all of their culinary skills, and it’s something they work for all year to get to this point where they can do this and do it well,” he said.
The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade Freedom Fighter’s Café featured an 80s theme, highlighting some of the music and games from the decade of decadence. Diners feasted on “Totally Tubular” turkey and “Radical” fried shrimp. Some of the staff wore costumes to greet diners as Darth Vader, Prince and M.C. Hammer.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team DFAC was transformed into Whoville, with a “Grinch Stole Thanksgiving” theme. The culinary team managed to fill the DFAC with colorful displays of Dr. Seuss characters and even a bounce house for the kids.
Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Davis, 1st BCT DFAC manager, was ecstatic by what the culinary team produced.
“I’m actually over-excited,” he said. “Honestly, coming back from Joint Readiness Training Center (at Fort Polk, Louisiana), we only had a week to do this. The junior enlisted (Soldiers) really made it happen. Everyone participated, but I had a team of about 10 Soldiers who really put in the time and dedication to see this through. I’m very thankful to have them on my team this year.”
Pvt. Chad Smith dressed up as the Grinch to greet diners, but hours before the big event he was busy preparing all of the meats and making sure the building was to standard. This was his first Thanksgiving assignment since graduating advanced individual training.
“I was very surprised by how detailed everything was, but I’m also thankful that I got to be a part of this,” he said.
Minutes before people began forming lines at the door, Smith and the other culinarians toured the facility to marvel at each other’s work.
“We enjoy what we do, and we have a lot of pride in our work,” he said. “If you look at some of the displays by the baking team, this is where they get to shine.”
Pvts. Melissa Galvan and Yara Gibson were among those who baked cake pops, cupcakes, sugar cookies and cakes.
“I had a lot of fun doing this,” Gibson said. “It was stressful, but I liked all the teamwork that we had.”
In addition to serving up a delicious Thanksgiving meal, each DFAC was vying for the annual Best Dining Facility award. The criteria being judged included displays and decorations, teamwork, menus and food preparation.
Hoping to retain the Best DFAC trophy, it seemed an appropriate choice for 2nd Brigade Combat Team to choose the universe’s greatest superheroes – the Marvel Avengers – as their theme. A giant Hulk display and a Spider-Man shooting his webs were among the features.
Sgt. 1st Class Rory Davis, 2nd BCT DFAC manager, was particularly proud of the Infinity Gauntlet table display, with gem candies adorning each knuckle of the powerful glove that was filled with cake and cereal.
“It would fall apart, we would fix it, then it would fall again,” he said. “After Day 3, I just wanted to throw it away. I’m happy we didn’t give up – more than happy.”
He said that the team went with the superhero theme because they often get a lot of Families attending this holiday meal.
“Last year, we did a Disney theme, and so we wanted something different that children would like,” Davis said. “This is like walking inside a living comic book.”
Davis estimated that the team of roughly 20 culinary specialists worked a collective total of 8,000 hours – from planning to executing the meal.
“Last year, we fed about 600-650 people, and that was a lot when you think that the brigade was deployed,” he said. “Now, the brigade is back, and we should have at least 800 people eating here.”
They also made space for a photo booth with superhero masks that attendees could wear.
“I wanted this to be interactive and fun for everyone,” Davis said. “I couldn’t be prouder of what everyone came up with – they all worked so hard.”
The hard work paid off as the 2nd BCT team – elated, but exhausted – reclaimed the honor of Best DFAC.
To view a gallery of Thanksgiving meal photos from all the Fort Drum dining facilities, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/drum10thmountain/albums/72157711950705731.