Thanksgiving came a day early to Fort Carson, where dozens of soldiers spent Wednesday preparing holiday fare for thousands of comrades, family members and needy individuals throughout the Colorado Springs area.
As early as 10:30 a.m., a lengthy line spilled outside the Robert C. Stack Dining Facility, where Army cooks prepared to serve a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal with a Mardi Gras-themed twist to 2,000 diners.
Among those in line was the Luther clan.
This year was the third that the Luthers — Sgt. Maj. Michael Luther; wife, Jodi; children Caroline and Kaylee; Jodi’s parents, Charlene and Jim Gause; and nieces Isabella and Emma Gause — have brought their small army out for a large Army feast.
Those who don’t think military-issued chow is worth standing in line for are missing out, Charlene Gause said.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” she said.
“The soldiers go all out,” Jodi Luther added.
The food is good, but the company is even better, she said.
“It’s neat to come and enjoy the time with soldiers,” she said. “You might meet a new friend, tell a soldier thank you.”
Inside the chow hall, food service workers, clad in dress uniforms, served typical holiday fare — turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce — and New Orleans-themed grub like crab legs and jambalaya.
Some food service soldiers wore their standard black wool berets. Others wore glittery green, gold and purple hats that complemented the party beads handed out to diners at the cash wrap.
Cocktail shrimp were kept chilly by saxophone-shaped ice sculptures that held cocktail sauce in bowls set in their bells.
“Iron horse” heads carved from animal fat guarded a behemoth cake display that included a massive butter cream-frosted cake celebrating the 4th Infantry Division’s 95th birthday and numerous additional cakes shaped like brigade crests, a turkey and a cornucopia.
All desserts and decorations, ice sculptures included, were crafted by soldiers, said Sgt. Patrick Marcoe.
Marcoe, an Army cook, was in charge of a seven-soldier arts-and-craft team that began planning the feast’s decorations over a month ago.
Army cooks are rarely thanked for their work, but Wednesday they were, he said.
“No one sees Army cooks or knows who we are,” said Marcoe, whose contribution to the celebration was a massive gingerbread village inspired by 17th-century New Orleans. “When people smile and express appreciation — I’ll probably go home after this and have a good cry.
“A warm greeting and a pat on the back go a long way.”
Several miles away at the post’s Culinary Academy, 25 Army cooks prepared to carve 300 turkeys; whip up mashed potatoes, green beans and stuffing to accompany them; pack finished meals into tin-foil trays; and load up Salvation Army-bound trucks with the meals.
The food prepared by the soldiers was expected to feed 3,000 hungry Colorado Springs area residents at four locations Thursday, said Sgt. Anthony Scott as he stood surrounded by rows of green military food containers packed with 35 cases of green beans and enough potatoes and stuffing to feed up to 4,000.
“We don’t want to short anybody,” said Scott with a laugh.
It’s a lot of traditional Thanksgiving food — enough to make Scott think twice about his family’s holiday plans.
“When I was seasoning my turkey at home this morning, I looked at it and I was like, ‘Do I really want to eat turkey after cooking 300?’” he said.
Scott’s superior, Sgt. 1st Class William Esterline, stopped by the facility Wednesday afternoon to check on the cooks.
So many of his soldiers volunteered to cook for the Salvation Army that he had to turn some away, Easterline said.
Some even volunteered to serve the meals they cooked, he added.
“These guys can’t stop giving, whether it’s to Iraqis, Afghans or people in Colorado Springs,” Easterline said. “These guys have been put in the mind-set that there’s something greater than them.”