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Aircraft carrier enlists an army to pull off Thanksgiving feast

A sailor carves turkey for USS Nimitz' Thanksgiving meal.

WESTON A. MOHR/U.S. NAVY PHOTO

By JULIANNE STANFORD | The KitsapSun (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 23, 2017

This Thanksgiving, the crew of the USS Nimitz will gather around the table to feast upon more than 6,000 pounds of turkey and 15,200 slices of pie as it gives thanks for a successful deployment.

"Although we miss our families and loved ones greatly, and are unable to spend this special day at home, it is certainly a privilege to share it with our family at sea," said Nimitz Command Master Chief Jimmy Hailey. "While deployed, this crew achieved many milestones making us a formidable and unstoppable team."

The Nimitz departed its homeport of Bremerton on June 1 for a more than three-month long deployment in the Arabian Gulf to conduct airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Middle East. After arriving in the 7th Fleet Area of Operations in October, the ship participated in the Navy's first three-carrier exercise in the western Pacific Ocean in a decade from Nov. 11-14.

This is the ninth Thanksgiving the aircraft carrier will celebrate while deployed since the ship was commissioned in 1975, said Nimitz spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Theresa Donnelly.

Thanksgiving is one of the largest meals the ship's culinary crew prepares every year, alongside a Christmas feast and the Navy's birthday meal.

Preparing and serving the holiday meal at sea for 5,000 people takes weeks of "planning, dedication and effort," said Master Chief Culinary Specialist Stephen Boos, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

This year, the cooks will prepare more than 120 turkeys, which were airlifted to the ship from the United States, with 4,000 pounds of prime rib, 3,500 pounds of honey-baked ham, corn on the cob, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy.

And for dessert, the Nimitz crew has the choice of five types of pie: pumpkin, sweet potato, peach, cherry and apple.

To prepare a meal of that size, it takes "a small army" of 159 culinary specialists, two Marine chefs, 137 food service attendants and eight Marine mess men working 16 to 18 hour days to bring "a small portion of a 'home for the holidays' feeling to our Nimitz family," Boos said.

A few days before Thanksgiving, the culinary team takes the food out of the freezer to defrost. The night before, they begin preparing and cooking all of the meats, side dishes and desserts. On the day of the feast, food will be served for five straight hours in seven galley spaces.

The ship's commissioned officers and chief petty officers will serve the meal in shifts to sailors "to ensure the crew not only receives a home-cooked meal, but receives it with a smile and sincere gratitude," Boos said.

It also gives enlisted culinary specialists and food service attendants a "well-deserved break to enjoy the feast and fellowship" with other sailors, Donnelly said.

According to tradition aboard the ship, commanding officer Capt. Kevin Lenox will carve the turkey, and Navy chaplain Cmdr. Steve Mills will give a special blessing prior to the meal.

Boos said one of the best parts of preparing the Thanksgiving meal at sea is bringing the Nimitz crew joy during the holiday season.

"As a member of the food service community for over 20 years, the ability to put smiles on people's faces, remind them of home and make deployment just a little bit easier is our ultimate goal," Boos said.

After the meal, Boos said he can tell his meal was a success with what he calls the "lean."

"Nothing brings us more joy than looking around the mess decks and seeing all the people leaning to one side in their chairs. The 'I ate too much' lean," Boos said. "The rubbing of the belly is key as well."

And "after eating at least 5,000 calories of the Navy's finest food, (they don't) have to do the dishes," Boos said.

Every Thanksgiving, one turkey aboard the Nimitz is granted a reprieve from being served as a part of the ship's holiday meal. This year's bird, who will be saved for the blessing and decoration, is named Homeward Bound.

Although the ship's return date to Bremerton hasn't been officially announced yet, Donnelly said the ship will hopefully return by Christmas.

Holiday Greetings from the Nimitz

Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Garry Cantrell, from Columbus, Ga.

"The best part about being at sea for the holidays is knowing that I will be home soon to spend time with my family," Cantrell said. "I just miss my family the most, and I can’t wait to be back to spend quality time with them all."

"Happy Thanksgiving to Aniyah, Jaylen and Zoe; I love and miss you. I can’t wait to see you all soon."

Ship’s Serviceman Gary Luu, from Portland, Ore.,

"The best part about being on the ship for the holidays is the camaraderie among the sailors on board, it makes it a little easier being away from family when you have your second family here with you," Luu said. "What I miss most about being home for Thanksgiving is the great food. Keep calm and cook on!"

"Hola from the seas! I cannot wait to be home with my beautiful wife Ashley and my three handsome boys; Vince, Zane and Kai, along with our pets Lucy, Pete and Hagrid! I love you guys!"

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joseph Nieves, from Westfield, Mass.

"I enjoy seeing the increased creativity when the holiday season comes around along with the mixture of cultures that emerge," Nieves said. "I enjoy cooking, so I miss the smell of roasting turkey throughout the house while baking desserts with my daughter."

"I miss and love my family and cannot wait to be home."

Chief Aviation Support Equipment Technician Arlene Young, from Santa Maria, Calif.

"The best part about being at sea for the holidays is that I have over 5,000 extended family members to share it with." Young said. "What I miss most about being home for Thanksgiving is cooking for my family."

"I love and miss you guys! Thank you for supporting what I do."

Aviation Electrician's Mate 1st Class Wendy Stewart, from Olympia

"Even if I have to be away from my family for the holidays, I have 36 brothers and sisters to share them with." Stewart said. "What I miss most about being home for Thanksgiving is going to my in-laws' and eating the best meals I've ever had, and of course, spending time with my family."

"I love and miss you so much. When I get home we're baking cookies!"

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©2017 the KitsapSun (Bremerton, Wash.)
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