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Thanksgiving Feed-the-Troops Tradition Continues Despite COVID-19

Nov. 24, 2020 | BY Katie Lange , DOD News

Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different for just about everyone this year thanks to the global pandemic. Unfortunately, that includes our service members stationed overseas. 

Large group gatherings in dining facilities used to be the standard for our deployed men and women when it came to celebrating Thanksgiving. This year, that setup will likely look more like grab-and-go style takeout instead. 

Soldiers sit together at a long table and enjoy a meal.
Thanksgiving Dinner
Soldiers at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in 2018. While this year’s Thanksgiving meal may look different, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support has been providing traditional Thanksgiving food to field kitchens, dining facilities and galleys to locations in the United States and around the world.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Caitlyn Byrne
VIRIN: 201123-D-OH989-0001C
Two hands receive a food-filled plate from a server.
Holiday Meal
Airmen, soldiers, veterans and their families gather for the Chaplains Thanksgiving Dinner on Nov. 15, 2018, at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho. The annual event is held to provide a free holiday meal and build esprit de corps amongst those who have served and are currently serving.
Photo By: Air National Guard Master Sgt. Joshua C. Allmaras
VIRIN: 181115-Z-IM874-0051C

But no matter what, the Defense Logistics Agency said it's making sure all our warfighters  have a home-cooked meal with all the trimmings this holiday. And in case you thought cooking a huge turkey for your family was a lot, try doing it for tens of thousands of hungry troops! 

This year, the DLA has shipped out the following quantities of food:

  • 9,000 whole turkeys
  • 51,000 pounds of roasted turkeys
  • 74,000 pounds of beef
  • 21,000 pounds of ham
  • 67,000 pounds of shrimp
  • 16,000 pounds of sweet potatoes
  • 19,000 pounds of pies and cakes
  • 7,000 gallons of eggnog

That doesn't even include all the other fixings that go into the meal!

A chef carves a turkey under bright lights.
Turkey Carving
Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark R. August, 86th Airlift Wing commander, gets ready to carve a turkey in the dining facility at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Nov. 28, 2019. August was part of the leadership team that served Thanksgiving lunch to approximately 300 airmen at the dining facility.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Jennifer Gonzales
VIRIN: 191203-F-BH697-1003C

Months of Effort

It's no easy feat to get all that food prepared and shipped to service members across the globe.

DLA Troop Support started planning and preparing for this year's meal as early as March. A lot of the ingredients are at prime vendor locations by September, while the high-volume items, such as the turkeys and 131 tons of trimmings, start arriving overseas in October. 

A soldier smiles behind a tray of vegetables. Next to him is a man wearing a turkey-leg hat.
Thanksgiving Meal
Army Master Sgt. Chris Haines, the communication and IT support non-commissioned officer in charge with the 191st Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, smiles as he and other senior leaders prepare to serve their soldiers the Thanksgiving holiday meal at Powidz, Poland, Nov. 22, 2018.
Photo By: Army Cpl. Christina Westover
VIRIN: 181122-A-HS465-352C

"The holidays will look quite different this year for everyone," said Army Brig. Gen. Gavin Lawrence, DLA's Troop Support commander. "I'm proud that our workforce is doing everything possible to make sure our warfighters get a proper holiday meal, especially since many of us will not be able to be with our family and friends. We want to make sure they get that taste of home no matter where they are in the world."

It's a mission the DLA has provided to field kitchens, dining facilities and galleys all over the world for more than 50 years. 

"Our supply chain takes the holidays very seriously," said Army Col. Eric McCoy, DLA's Troop Support subsistence director. "Our troops are far away from home, and they definitely look forward to this meal. Disappointing them is not an option."

A table filled with fall decorations is under a sign that says, "Be Thankful."
Thanksgiving Cake
A Thanksgiving-themed cake made by sailors assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford's supply department is displayed on a decorated table.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Liz Thompson
VIRIN: 181122-N-ES536-1011C
A cornucopia of fruit and bread is on a table.
Thanksgiving Cornucopia
A cornucopia made of styrofoam spills bread and fruits. It is one of several such decorations serving Thanksgiving food at the dining facility at Camp Wright in Asadabad, Afghanistan, Nov. 26, 2009. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, contractors and locals all ate together throughout the day and into the night remembering to be thankful for friendship and fellowship.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Brian Boisvert
VIRIN: 091126-F-ZZ999-005

McCoy said most overseas locations received their supplies for the meals by mid-November. 

DLA Troop Support supplies America's armed forces with $19 billion annually in food, uniforms, protective equipment and other vital items. A well-prepared Thanksgiving meal during a tough time of year is definitely something our troops can be thankful for!