Fort Bragg troops enjoy a Thanksgiving feast
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: November 22, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) —As Staff Sgt. Yosandys Vega walked through the Falcon Inn Dining Facility on Fort Bragg, she surveyed the final moments of preparation for what would be her soldiers’ biggest meal of the year.
One soldier sautes a giant heap of vegetables out on the line grill. Back in the kitchen, two other soldiers help prepare a low country boil. Another bastes hams. While yet another pulls a tray of lamb chops from an oven.
Amid the controlled chaos of the kitchen, Vega — a floor supervisor at the dining facility that is jointly operated by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Field Artillery Brigade — lets a weary smile cross her face.
“By far, this is the busiest time of the year,” she said. “Thanksgiving is a big deal. This is when soldiers can show their skills and show their knowledge.”
The Falcon Inn typically serves 700 soldiers during lunch. On Wednesday, officials expected about 1,500 would dine on the early Thanksgiving feast.
Fort Bragg dining facilities began serving holiday meals Tuesday. In all, eight different facilities served Thanksgiving meals at least once during the week.
The Falcon Inn served their first Thanksgiving meal Wednesday — one of five Fort Bragg dining facilities offering a holiday menu.
The Falcon Inn will also offer a holiday meal on Thursday, along with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team dining facility and Womack Army Medical Center’s dining facility. All three dining facilities will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For Wednesday, 48 soldiers assigned to Falcon Inn worked long hours to ready the meal. Some began preparation for the feast at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Vega said Thanksgiving was an important time, not just for Army cooks, but for soldiers in general.
Not everyone on Fort Bragg is able to visit family for the holiday, she said. So, it’s important that everyone have the ability to get a taste of home at the very least.
“This shows that we care,” she said.
In a Thanksgiving message to Fort Bragg troops, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend and Command Sgt. Maj. Charles W. Albertson said the holiday was a day of gathering with family and friends.
“As we gather on this national day of Thanksgiving, let us embrace the freedom we have,” the command team for the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg wrote. “Let us honor all who serve our great nation and pay tribute to the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Like at other Thanksgiving meals across post, diners at the Falcon Inn were served by their leadership — senior noncommissioned officers and officers wearing their dress uniforms.
It’s part of an Army tradition, said Maj. David Bergeron, the intelligence officer for the 18th Field Artillery Brigade and one of the leaders who served soldiers.
“This is important for us,” Bergeron said. “It’s our way to show our support for soldiers who are the reason we succeed.”
Across Fort Bragg, units partook in holiday sporting competitions — flag football tournaments and softball games.
Meanwhile, the Falcon Inn soldiers competed against time itself.
While other dining facilities had weeks to prepare for the holiday feast, many of the Falcon Inn’s soldiers were recently deployed and only had a little more than a week to make the massive meal and ornate decorations modeled after a Disney theme a reality.
“We work better when we’re under pressure,” Vega said of the quick turnaround. “We put our heart into everything.”
Roughly half of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team was deployed for nine months before returning in September. The soldiers served in Iraq, Syria and Kuwait as part of the coalition to defeat the Islamic State.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Page, the 2nd Brigade food advisor, said the soldiers returned to Fort Bragg weeks ago, but then took several weeks of leave to be with their families and relax after the long deployment.
That adds to the stress of the holiday feast, he said. It also makes the event even more important.
“They’re really working hard,” Page said. “This is really the first meal for the brigade since we came back from deployment. Thanksgiving is always a big meal, especially in the military. This makes it more special.”
The Falcon Inn was one of seven dining facilities competing as part of Fort Bragg’s annual Best Thanksgiving Dining Facility Competition.
James Ramey, food program manager at Fort Bragg, said there was stiff competition this year and lots of creativity.
“There’s a lot of time and effort here,” he said. “A lot of work goes into this.”
Overall, Fort Bragg’s dining facilities anticipate serving thousands of pounds of food to thousands of soldiers over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Officials estimated that will include more than 2,000 pounds of turkey, nearly 1,000 pounds of beef steamship round, more than 360 pounds of beef ribeye, more than 660 pounds of shrimp, 500 pounds of pig and significant portions of sides and desserts.
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org