FORT RILEY — Members of the 1st Infantry Division served elaborate Thanksgiving meals to their fellow soldiers Wednesday and Thursday.
Organizers have been preparing for the two-day Thanksgiving event since Oct. 15. Preparations concluded Wednesday morning, leaving soldiers, family members and civilians a plethora of dining options and an imaginatively themed dinner.
The food is prepared entirely by members of the combat aviation brigade (CAB), also known as the “Demon Brigade.” They made everything from honey glazed ham, cornbread and shrimp gumbo to seven-layer cake.
This year, the entire dining hall was decorated to transport patrons to the land of Oz with a Wizard of Oz theme, carried out in every aspect of the decor, including wrapping paper decorated walls, ice sculptures, lights hanging from the ceiling and edible displays, right down to the yellow brick road.
“All the hard work pays off when you see the families come together,” warrant officer Amanda Gonzalez said.
A panel of 1st Inf. Div. members critiqued the preparation and performance of the dinner, held at Demon Dining Hall.
The dining hall can serve up to 500 people three times a day. Organizers estimated that 900 soldiers, spouses and children will be fed Thanksgiving meals there this year.
“Today is a special day for soldiers and families as we celebrate Thanksgiving,” said Col. Mike Morgan, commander of the 1st CAB. “Today’s tradition of the leadership serving the soldiers and their families is an act of appreciation and respect to the hard work and professionalism that our soldiers do each and every day.”
Morgan has helped serve Thanksgiving meals to soldiers for 24 years.
“It feels great, and I take pride in doing this. It is a time-honored tradition that is Army-wide,” said Morgan.
The CAB has been at Fort Riley for roughly six years. The brigade had a 16-month deployment in Iraq, came home for a 13-month “dwell,” went back as the last CAB in Iraq during Operation New Dawn, then returned home. The soldiers are currently on a 29-month dwell and have been training with the new equipment while preparing for combat operations and getting ready for their deployment in late summer or early fall of 2013.
“I think what we ask of soldiers and their families in this tremendous profession is that they do something greater than themselves each and every day,” Morgan said. “They are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and they sacrifice their time so our country is free and continues to be the land of liberty.”
For many soldiers, this is the first Thanksgiving they are spending away from their family and friends. For Pfc. Neanbra Auguste this is the case. She is originally from the Virgin Islands and has never spent a holiday away from home.
“I’m very thankful for the meal they cooked for us. Everything is really good so far.” Auguste will deploy in August 2013.
“We never know when the next call to duty is, but over the last 10 years these soldiers have spent a lot of time serving over seas,” Morgan said.
“We certainly cherish the time we have with our families, and we encourage our soldiers and families to enjoy these opportunities.”