By J. Parker Roberts and Amanda Kim Stairrett
1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs Office
Though the calendar said Nov. 26, 1st Infantry Division Soldiers across Fort Riley celebrated Thanksgiving at three dining facilities, each location vying to send Soldiers, Family members and civilians home having eaten their best meal of the year.
Food service Soldiers at the Demon, Devil and Cantigny dining facilities were up all night preparing for the lunchtime meals. Planning for the day began months ago and ended with diners filled their plates with turkey, stuffing, prime rib and other trappings of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
“I think it’s pretty important that Soldiers get a feel for what they would have at their houses, so each DFAC tries to build a theme,” Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston, the division’s senior noncommissioned officer, said. “It’s just about bringing some of the Family home feeling back into the DFACs.”
Those themes included a medieval theme at the Demon dining facility and a dual theme at Cantigny – Disney for children and Families, and Las Vegas for adults. Soldiers and their Family members dined among cakes decorated as casinos and castles and interacted with everyone from Elvis Presley to Santa Claus.
Grinston said the efforts of the food-service Soldiers go a long way toward resiliency.
“As we get moved around all over the country, sometimes you come back in and you get that hometown feeling, and it makes them remember that they’re part of the team,” he said. “You may go through some hardships, you may go through other things, but when you’ve got Soldiers and other Family members who come out and you all get together, you’re a part of something.”
Thanksgiving is also a time for senior leaders to give back to Soldiers in a very real way. Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley commanding general, joined other division senior leaders in serving meals to Soldiers at all three dining facilities.
“This is the Super Bowl for our cooks,” Funk said. “This is where they bring it all out and show what they can do.”
Spc. Martha Cobble of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., spent much of her night Nov. 25 baking cake pops and other desserts for the next day’s meal at Cantigny. This was Cobble’s third Thanksgiving as an Army cook and said her specialty was baking – something that runs in her Family.
Getting to break the normal dining facility routine helps lift food service Soldiers’ morale, she said.
“Just knowing you did something rather than just coming here and cook all the time,” Cobble added. “It makes you feel good. It makes you proud of what you do.”
Funk said this would be the first Thanksgiving away from home for many Soldiers.
“The Army’s a big Family,” Funk said. “On Thursday, what I would ask everyone in the Flint Hills to do is, when they sit down at the table, just say thanks for those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who walk a cold and lonely post to bring us freedom, to bring us this holiday and to make America the greatest country in the world.”
The efforts of the cooks and senior leaders were appreciated by the Soldiers they served.
“I haven’t seen Cantigny go all out like this since I’ve been here,” Sgt. George Frei, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., said. “It means a lot.”
Frei said the Army is always there for Soldiers, but it pulls out all the stops to provide for troops on holidays like Thanksgiving.
“It seems like they go out of their way to make sure that Soldiers have a home-cooked meal during those Thanksgivings,” he said, describing the festivities as a Family environment.
“Ever since I’ve been in the military, I thought it was really cool that higher leadership goes and serves their Soldiers during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner,” said Frei, who has been in the military for more than seven years.
Frei questioned whether one would see CEOs serving their employees in any other organization.
“They care so much about their Soldiers that they would serve them,” he added.