Fort Stewart’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team “Vanguard” took first place in a Thanksgiving meal competition on Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, commander of the 3rd ID and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, presented a trophy and 3rd ID coins to Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Owens, food service supervisor for the Vanguard dining facility, and each of his chefs.
The Marne Division’s culinary competition included prizes for best cuisine, best dessert, best ice carving, best centerpiece, best decorated DFAC and best fallen-comrade display.
The DFACs competing alongside 4th IBCT “Vanguard” included 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade “Falcons” at Hunter, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion “Legion,” 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team “Raider” and 2nd HBCT “Spartan.”
“This year’s Thanksgiving really means a lot to us,” said Sgt. 1st Class Melanie Scott, senior food operations sergeant and assistant manager for Legion DFAC.
“Most of us have been in Iraq or Afghanistan during previous Thanksgivings. This is the first Thanksgiving we’ve all been together in several years.”
In addition to thematic table decorations and displays, the Legion DFAC included living displays in the form of two young Cinderellas, Amya Webb, 7, and Emma Rubel, 8, who guarded their pumpkin carriage that filled one corner of the dining room.
The Raider DFAC had an ice carving that depicted the 3rd ID patch and a table decoration that included a Rocky cake, which drew accolades from Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Milton and Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. James Erwin, who, like the division commander, visited each of the competing DFACs.
Officers wearing dress blues and chef hats served meals to soldiers and family members at each of the DFACs.
For one officer serving at the Raider DFAC, Thanksgiving probably was an unfamiliar event, but Maj. Jeroen Berhaeghe of the Belgian Army passed out dinner rolls with a smile that made each diner feel at home. Although it certainly was not “grandma’s house,” the soldiers said they enjoyed sharing a meal with their Army family.
The Raider and Spartan DFACs’ outdoor decorations included the celebrity host of the day: A live turkey peevishly welcomed guests eagerly waiting for giblets and gravy. An array of other animals like ducks and chickens in crates and pens, as well as displays such as Indian teepees, canoes, horses and covered wagons, met guests as they waited in long lines to enjoy the Thanksgiving feast.
“I’m doing Sgt. 1st Class (Maurice) Owens a favor,” explained 1st HBCT’s Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Hagood, who rode his horse from the Bits & Bridle Club stables to the new Vanguard DFAC in order to be part of a display of horses.
Owens wanted the children to be able to pet the horses and get some idea of what Thanksgiving might have been like nearly 400 years ago.
“Other than canoes, horses were probably the fastest form of transportation the Pilgrims would have had for that first Thanksgiving,” Hagood said.
From the entrance of the Vanguard DFAC through the doorway and beyond, leaves covered the floor to illustrate more of what Owens believed reflected the first Thanksgiving. He said it probably was observed outside as there likely was not a log cabin or thatch hut large enough to hold the Pilgrims and their Native American guests.
Inside, a series of while sails hovered above the salad bar, which was encased in simulated wood siding in order to depict the Mayflower.
“You’ve done a lot of hard work, but if you had run out of pumpkin pie, you’d have been in a lot of trouble,” Abrams said, joking with Owens and his staff just prior to presenting the coins and trophy. “This has been an incredible effort on your part and proves that somebody pulled an all-nighter to get this done.”
In fact, Owen said 15 members of his DFAC staff had been working on the Thanksgiving meal and culinary competition since the beginning of September. The Vanguard DFAC is the newest dining facility on Fort Stewart.
Owens said the Directorate of Logistics and the Division Food Service judged the competition. He said the team of judges stayed about 15 minutes at each facility, tasting the food and desserts and observing the displays and decorations.
Following the award presentation, Abrams answered questions from the media but emphasized that he was quite hungry after visiting all five DFACs since early that morning and looking at and smelling the feast at each one.
“We’ve been waiting all day,” he smiled as he motioned to his staff members. “I’ve got my family here with me. We’re all hungry, and we’re ready to eat.