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Duty didn't dent Thanksgiving, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Estrada, who brought his wife Irma and child Cesar Estrada Jr. to the USS Gary for dinner.
Duty didn't dent Thanksgiving, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Estrada, who brought his wife Irma and child Cesar Estrada Jr. to the USS Gary for dinner. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Duty didn't dent Thanksgiving, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Estrada, who brought his wife Irma and child Cesar Estrada Jr. to the USS Gary for dinner.
Duty didn't dent Thanksgiving, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Estrada, who brought his wife Irma and child Cesar Estrada Jr. to the USS Gary for dinner. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Stephens points to the scant remains of a Thanksgiving turkey Thursday aboard USS Gary.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Stephens points to the scant remains of a Thanksgiving turkey Thursday aboard USS Gary. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Seaman Apprentice Dustin Davilla serves up Thanksgiving dinner to Petty Officer 2nd Class Derozette Thomas on Thursday aboard the USS Gary.
Seaman Apprentice Dustin Davilla serves up Thanksgiving dinner to Petty Officer 2nd Class Derozette Thomas on Thursday aboard the USS Gary. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Mom wakes up at the crack of dawn to get the bird in the oven. Frenzied grating, chopping, and mashing turns kitchens into hardhat zones. And then, the crisis — how can you squish whole turkeys, entire hams, and sweet potatoes for 40 into two small ovens?

The Thanksgiving toil and tussle doesn’t get easier when you’re aboard a U.S. Navy ship. Plus, Mom isn’t there to wave her magic wand.

“Timing is everything,” says Seaman Donald Simpkins, a culinary specialist aboard the frigate USS Gary. “We got the turkey in at 5:45 this morning. We have limited space in the ovens. We don’t have a lot of equipment to cook this kind of meal.”

But with eight hands and some creative thinking, the Gary’s culinary staff put on a seam-splitting Thanksgiving spread of shrimp, baked ham, roast turkey, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, soup, corn and rolls.

The frigate originally planned to be in Hong Kong for the holiday, but ended up in port at Yokosuka.

For his part, Marco Colldimayo hadn’t celebrated Thanksgiving before he got to the States. The petty officer third class was born in England.

“We associate turkey with Christmas,” said Colldimayo. “But Thanksgiving is cool — the ship is so small, you get to know everyone like a family.”

And, like with family, traditions are important. Like eating a belly-busting meal on the fourth Thursday of November.

Being away from family or on duty on the holidays can get depressing, so the effort is appreciated, said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Torain. He was eating his Thanksgiving dinner aboard the Gary on Thursday.

“It ain’t exactly like Mom’s, but it’ll work,” Torain said.

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