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Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division partake of a hearty Thanksgiving meal Nov. 22 at the dining facilities across Fort Drum, as culinary specialists worked throughout the night to decorate the facilities and prepare the menu. Culinary specialists across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) prepared a special Thanksgiving feast for hundreds of Soldiers and family members on Nov. 22. Arguably the largest meal they serve every year, the restaurant staff gets to showcase their talents and creativity with a festive menu and decorations. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

10th Mountain Division culinary specialists cook up special holiday meal for Soldiers, families

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 22, 2022) – Putting the finishing touches to a perfect Thanksgiving feast was the mission for culinary specialists across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) on Nov. 22, while overcoming the challenges of doing so in the aftermath of a massive snowstorm.

At the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Flight Line Warrior Restaurant, Soldiers worked overnight to prepare the holiday meal for hundreds of Soldiers and family members.

“Everybody will eat well today,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alechia Riley, facility manager. “It’s going to be a very well made, traditional Thanksgiving meal. We have everything from lamb and salmon, turkeys, Cornish hens, a healthy bar, and desserts.”

Riley said the culinary team put in a lot of time, effort and creative energy into the meal.

“This meal is like our Super Bowl,” she said. “We get to showcase talent and skill and think outside the box to pull everything together for this one meal.”

Riley has only managed the restaurant for a few months, but she said the culinary team responded quickly to her drive and leadership.

“They are highly motivated Soldiers,” she said. “This team was willing to come out and produce to a high level, and they can be proud of what they have done.”

Sgt. 1st Class Charles Hemphill, manager of the 1st Brigade Combat Team’s Warrior Inn Restaurant, said a lot of planning was involved to create the Thanksgiving meal.

“The snow definitely didn’t help us, but as culinary specialists we have a job to do,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to feed our Soldiers, and we will always find a way to make that happen.”

Hemphill said that this is the first real challenge for new culinary specialists fresh out of advanced individual training.

“I put a lot of them on the night shift, so they get that experience and see what it’s like to cook in this type of mass quantity meal,” he said.

The kitchen was bustling with activity as culinary specialists roasted 28 turkeys, cooked 100 steaks, 15 hams and two whole pigs. Others carried trays of mashed potatoes and baked macaroni and cheese to the serving area, along with sides of sweet potato yams and savory bread dressing.

“This is about providing our Soldiers and families with a healthy, home-cooked meal,” Hemphill said. “Some Soldiers are away from their families right now, and so we want to provide them with the best meal possible and make them feel at home with us.”

The circus was in town at the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s Commando Warrior Restaurant. The culinary specialists decked out the facility in a carnival-like atmosphere with a photo booth and games, a mystic reading fortunes with a crystal ball, and a strongman flexing his muscles.

“We wanted to do something fun, after the calming down of COVID and then the weather we’ve been having,” said Staff Sgt. Brenda Ornelas, a culinary noncommissioned officer. “This is something that both adults and kids could enjoy in a family-friendly environment.”

Sgt. Karina Michael said that she, Ornelas and Sgt. Samantha Cebelak, developed the circus concept where patrons would enter the restaurant by walking through a giant clown’s mouth, leading into a hallway of mirrors. After that, they are greeted at the ticket booth before getting their meal trays and taking in all the sights and sounds.

“Everything is designed to give you the feeling you are at a carnival,” Michael said.

But the main attraction is the food – everything from roast turkey with giblet gravy, prime rib au jus, halibut with herb sauce, honey-glazed hens and maple-glazed tofu steaks. More than a dozen appetizers, desserts and side dishes accompanied the main course.

“For people who don’t know all the work we do, this definitely shows them what we can do,” said Michael. “Our baker doesn’t normally get to do all this crazy stuff with the cakes and desserts. So this gives us a chance to really demonstrate all of our talent.”

What made the event memorable for Ornelas was getting to work with Michael, her best friend and culinary compatriot.

“She came up with the whole idea, and we just rolled with it,” Ornelas said. “It’s been fun to see all the Soldiers getting involved and being interactive with the theme. You see a lot of people’s talents and creativity come out, and that made this special.”