Preparations began weeks in advance, with long hours of planning and creating pastel and icing masterpieces. The kitchen started Saturday morning, preparing the meats they would cook for Tuesday, with little to no sleep in the last few days.
The cooks in the dining rooms at the Warrior restaurant in Fort Hood didn’t care, though: The competition was on to see who could make the best Thanksgiving meal, and all the teams competed fiercely for bragging rights.
It wouldn’t be easy, though, because the judges included the entire III Corps command team: Lt. Gen. Sean C. Bernabe, Command Sgt. Major Arthur “Cliff” Burgoyne Jr., and the two deputy commanders, Major General Christopher G. Beck and British Major General Michael R. Keating. They were joined by the Fort Hood Garrison command team of Col. Chad R. Foster and Command Sgt. Major Calvin Hall.
Starting at the Always Ready Warrior restaurant, the heavy hitters began sampling the foods and meeting up with the soldiers and family members who flooded in for a good holiday meal.
“I haven’t been able to sleep in almost 72 hours, so there’s a lot to do to prepare the Thanksgiving meal,” said Sgt. 1st Class Courtney Hall, manager of the Always Ready Warrior restaurant.
The amount of work that the soldiers put into the competition was evident.
“We started cooking on Saturday. You have to marinate your meats and everything, nobody wants turkeys and dry hams, ribs and everything,” Hall said. “You have to plan your meal – it’s a competition, so you don’t want the same thing as the rest of the DFAC. Yes, it’s Thanksgiving, so most may be the same, but you want to stand out.”
The tour of the dining rooms was followed by Ironhorse, then Black Jack, Patriot, and Theodore Roosevelt. At each, the hard work of the cooks could be seen in the decorations and the smiles on the faces of the soldiers as they ate. The leaders of the units served by each facility were in their dress uniforms and behind counters feeding the troops.
“Honestly, I think this meal is some of the best they’ve had in a long time. I eat here every day, and I am absolutely in love with the meal they have planned here today,” said Spc. Jaycub Brackwell, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, at the Black Jack Warrior Restaurant. “They definitely went above and beyond, like their sweet potatoes tasted just like mom’s homemade sweet potatoes.
“I love the decor, I love how everything looks like a casino. It’s amazing, it definitely looks like they put a lot of time and effort into it.”
For the elaborate cakes that decorated the facility, preparation began well in advance.
“It took about three weeks of effort to get ready,” PFC said. Ashley Ferreiro, Patriot Pastry Chef, 553 Field Feeding Company. “The cakes, it was like every day we were trying to make a cake and spending 10 or 12 hours on each cake. I’m happy how it came out. To be honest, I like it, I love it. This is the best food we have every year.”
As for leaders feeding soldiers, there’s a very good reason, said First Sgt. Richard Delgado, first sergeant, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Chemical Battalion, at Patriot.
“It’s very important for us to do this at this time of year, which is when a lot of soldiers don’t have their families, especially with their duties and deployments,” Delgado said. “We care about them, we take care of them and maintain them and this time we will be the ones to serve them a good meal. Give them good cheer for the holidays”
And doing so is a fantastic Army tradition, too, said Col. Kevin Bradley, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, at Theodore Roosevelt.
“We enjoy the fact that today, before we send everyone across the country to celebrate with their families, we have the opportunity to come together, have Thanksgiving lunch and really have time to continue to get to know our soldiers, hear their stories. and celebrate what it means to be together in the same organization, the Brave Rifles,” he said.
Bradley said that he and his fellow soldiers really appreciated the hard work the cooks put into the food.
“I’m seeing a lot of smiling faces, a few full plates, a couple of double plates, obviously making the most of today,” Bradley said. “I think everyone appreciates a good Thanksgiving meal. We are absolutely grateful for all the hard work (from the cooks).”
The hard work paid off at the end of the competition, as Theodore Roosevelt won bragging rights with Ironhorse as a close runner-up. Theodore Roosevelt serves with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
“I’m really proud of them,” Bradley said of the soldiers in the mess hall. “I just want to say, to all of our Soldiers, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving, whether you’re here or coming back to celebrate with your families, I hope you have a great weekend, stay safe and look forward to December to continue training before leaving for Christmas.
The facilities will remain open on Thursday with regular business hours.