Giving back

1st Sgt Shawn Kirby hands over a plate, piled high with typical Thanksgiving day food to PFC Nicholas Lawson.

Mike Bartoszek

“I like the friendly competition leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Col. Hank Perry’s sentiment was echoed by many of those who participated in the annual Thanksgiving dining facility competition across Fort Hood.

Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hood commander, led the military and civilian team of judges through five DFACs: Always Ready on West Fort Hood, Theodore Roosevelt, Freeman, Iron Horse and the Patriot Inn.

Food operations and dining area appearance were among the factors taken into account by the judges.

The creativity involved in not only decorating the facilities but serving a delicious meal didn’t happen overnight.

For the culinary arts team of Always Ready, the plan was months in the making.

Staff Sgt. Kishma Benjamin organized her staff into three teams. The food preparation team made not only turkey, but “steamship round” the main draws at carving stations on the buffet line.

Steamship round is a slow roasted cow thigh, according to Pfc. Javier Haro, who carved the beef with expert skill.

All the fixin’s of a true Thanksgiving meal were offered as well, with a full salad bar and exquisite desserts: Cupcakes, cakes, cookies and other tasty delights.

Benjamin’s other teams handled baking those desserts and decorating the facility.

Some of her team wore costumes, as a pilgrim and Native Americans. Spc. Claudia Grintz looked prim and proper in her pilgrim garb, but she was more proud of the cupcakes and cake-sized cupcakes she had baked.

The decorations included ice sculptures, large inflatable turkeys, tableclothes and holiday-themed placemats.

“This is our biggest day,” Benjamin said. “This is our time to shine.”

It’s also Benjamin’s last time organizing her DFAC’s participation in the competition. She’s retiring from the Army next year.

A tradition for all the DFACs in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday: the officers and noncommissioned officers serve on the line for the soldiers and families who come to eat.

The risk of spilling something on their dress uniforms isn’t too much of a concern, even though they don’t wear aprons to protect them from dripping sauces.

Quite touching, along the buffet line at the Theodore Roosevelt DFAC, a miniature table and chairs had been set up with a note reminding those who passed to “think of our soldiers who are in harm’s way and can’t make it home” for the holiday.

A huge accomplishment at the Theodore Roosevelt DFAC was the cornucopia which sat as a centerpiece in the hall.

Created by Spc. Trever Luttrull and Sgt. 1st Class Amah Williams, the horn of plenty took more than a week to make.

“We made a mold with chicken wire,” Luttrull said. That was covered with aluminum foil, then “dead dough.” A layer of salt dough covered the outside, sculpted to look rough like a woven horn.

“We used browning sauce to give it the color,” added Luttrull. Additional dough was used to make fake grapes and vines on the horn’s exterior, brought to life with food coloring.

After the judging was complete, the winning DFAC was Theodore Roosevelt, receiving a trophy to display with well-deserved pride.

While the decorations and the presentation were the result of much hard work, some were more focused on the meal itself.

For Pfc. Tyler Poppino, originally from Nevada, a meal at the Theodore Roosevelt DFAC hit the spot. “It’s a little different than Mom’s, but it’s good.” | 254-501-7568

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