Camaraderie and competitive spirit at Thanksgiving meal on Fort Drum
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. November 22, 2023
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — On a day when thousands of Fort Drum soldiers packed into four dining facilities for a Thanksgiving-themed lunch, the Army installation welcomed U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand for a visit.
A spread of desserts, vegetables, meats and fruit was available to soldiers to feast on during the Army tradition.
Warrant Officer Dwayne Donegan, the brigade’s food advisor, was responsible for organizing the Tuesday feast at the 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Warrior Inn Restaurant.
People had been working since 3 p.m. Thursday to ensure the soldiers had a Thanksgiving meal.
“We’re putting in the effort and the energy,” Donegan said.
Judges went through and evaluated each of the four dining facilities, which were judged on a variety of aspects, including the food, teamwork and decorations. The decorations were made by soldiers.
Donegan said they really wanted to win.
“We’re really, really, really competitive,” he said. “We all want to win.”
Their hard work paid off as they were the winning group, receiving a trophy, and most importantly, bragging rights.
“For us, for the culinary specialist, building the morale for the soldiers who can’t go home is why we do it,” he said.
Donegan said leadership was looking forward to this day.
“They’re very excited,” he said. “They went above and beyond to help out.”
Donegan said a lot of soldiers would walk through their doors, and he was right. Chief Warrant Officer Eric J. Mills, who is the division food advisor, and one of eight judges, said they estimate there were about 300 people walking through their doors. Mills said around 2,000 soldiers will eat at all of the facilities combined.
The budget was between $12,000 and $15,000 for the event. Soldiers paid for the food with their meal card if they live on the barracks. For those who don’t have a meal card, the cost was $11.25, Mills said.
Being able to provide a Thanksgiving meal to the soldiers “means everything,” Mills said.
“We do this on a daily basis, but today’s the Super Bowl for food service,” he said.
Mills already knows the details of the facility as he does quarterly inspections of the facilities. He said the workers went in and “elevated themselves.”
Soldiers Sgt. Antwan J. Hamlett and Sgt. Jaime Castaneda were enjoying the tastes of Thanksgiving.
Castaneda was stationed at Fort Drum in July and is still trying to get to know people, so this meal was important to him.
“It’s nice feeling back at home with a new family,” he said.
Castaneda said he’ll be staying in the north country for Thanksgiving but is able to go home for Christmas.
Hamlett said that he found the meal to be “fantastic” as they are on the go for most of the year.
“It’s nice to have the leadership come together and make this for the soldiers,” he said while adding this shows that leadership cares about the soldiers.
Hamlett also won’t be going home for the holiday as his family members are spread all over the country because they too, are military.
“Thanksgiving is about togetherness,” he said. “Whether it be your close family or someone you just met. It’s a good time to simmer down and be with people that care about you.”
Gillibrand thanked the soldiers for their service to the country, spoke with military spouses about challenges, and inspected the aircraft at the hangars.
The senator met with two groups of spouses — one already deployed and another that will be deploying in the next nine months.
“Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving thanks, and I wanted to give thanks to our service members and their families for the sacrifices they make every day,” she said.
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