Students join hands to give thanks

U.S. Army Quartermaster School advanced individual training Soldiers join hands and give thanks before enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together Nov. 27, 2014, at Fort Lee.

The traditional Thanksgiving feast for troops here is shaping up to be a very different occasion this year due to the threat of COVID-19.

Richard Bennett, food program manager for Logistics Readiness Center-Lee, which oversees dining facility operations at the Sustainment Center of Excellence, confirmed there will be no skimping on expected menu items. About 2,000 pounds each of turkey and ham; 1,800 pounds of prime rib; 1,000 pounds of sweet potatoes; 500 pounds of Salmon; 250 gallons of macaroni and cheese; and 350 pies and other holiday delights will be served at the installation’s five dining facilities.

Due to the pandemic, however, policies have been implemented that will change the usual optics. Most importantly, some traditional patrons will be prohibited from dining with troops as they have done in years past.

“Due to the pandemic, we’re unable to serve civilians and retirees,” Bennett said “Service is limited to installation students and cadre only.”

He then acknowledged how those veterans, retirees and family members added warmth and familiarity to the students’ dining experience, but the exclusion from this year’s meal was necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

 “Our priority on this installation is Soldiers, and we share that in our facilities – a commitment to ensuring their health and welfare,” he vowed. “They have to come first.”

DFACs have put in place – over the course of the pandemic – a long list of precautions designed to keep military members and employees safe. Some of those measures will prevent cadre and senior leaders from partaking in a decades-old Thanksgiving tradition as well.

“The command teams usually go into the DFAC to serve the Soldiers (from behind the serving lines),” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ivy L. Guido, 59th Ordnance Brigade CSM. “It always puts a smile on their faces when the leadership is present to serve them during the holiday. This year, we will not be able to do that due to the conditions we’re under.”

They won’t be entirely absent from the meal, however. Guido said Ordnance leaders, for one, still intend to be present.

“We will make up that time by dining with the troops,” he said. “We want to convey we are still part of a family, and despite COVID-19, we will still give thanks as a family.”

Lastly, the sometimes elaborate Thanksgiving-themed decorative projects adorning tables, foyers and entrances will be minimized this year as part of strategies to “minimize touches” and, therefore, the potential for spreading the disease, Bennett said.

Despite the various adjustments, he and the LRC team have little doubt the holiday here will be just as memorable as those in the past.

 “I can almost guarantee these commands will ensure there is a sense of fellowship for students on Thanksgiving Day,” Guido said. “It’s my job to ensure the food is there and prepared properly, but commanders are going to ensure they make this meal as festive as possible for Soldiers.”

Each initial entry training unit here will have a designated Thanksgiving meal time at their assigned dining facility. The schedule has been expanded this year to ensure the implementation of appropriate social distancing and crowd limit safeguards.