Gobble it up: 386 EFSS prepares for Thanksgiving

By Staff Sgt. William Banton 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

It is 2 a.m. Nov. 23.

Months of planning and weeks of preparation come down to the next 8 hours. The 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, Expeditionary Force Support Squadron is preparing to cook the Thanksgiving Day Lunch for approximately 7,000 Airmen, soldiers, civilians and coalition forces stationed at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.

The planning for the Thanksgiving feast, which supports multiple locations, some geographically separate from the main installation, began prior to the current 386th EFSS staffs arrival in the area of responsibility last June.

In May, the Air Force Services Activity, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, sent out this year’s menu Air Force wide. Then, the 386th EFSS staff used that information and estimated the quantity of food needed to support the Thanksgiving Day meal.

“Let’s just say they had 4,000 people here in May, well now we have more so that order is different and I don’t have as much food as I need,” said Master Sgt. Jeff Bellon, 386th EFSS rations flight chief, deployed from the 436th FSS, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. “So, strategically and logistically I have to work on getting more food. “

One of the first things current staff did when arriving, was review the Thanksgiving order to determine if it was going to meet updated manning projections. Due to constant changes and fluctuations in the Department of Defense’s needs, it can be difficult to accurately calculate the exact base population six months in advance.

After seeing that there were some shortfalls in the previous order, the 386th EFSS submitted an order to the Defense Logistics Agency.

“When we sent the order to adjust the numbers to the DLA, they said they didn’t have cornstarch and sage. It’s a special order item – only given out on major holidays,” said Master Sgt. Shonta Simes, 386th EFSS Desert Winds dining facility manager, deployed from the 509th FSS, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Sage is a key part in most Thanksgiving stuffing and dressing recipes, while cornstarch is used in recipes that involve glazing, such as sweet potatoes, hams, carrots.

“We can substitute (cornstarch) with flour of course, but we want to maintain the taste of the food so we try to get the actual recipe items,” Simes said.

Bellon said obtaining the needed supplies is a process which has required him to negotiate and borrow to ensure the holiday meal is a success.

He works with U.S. Air Forces Central Command, manpower and personnel, and a contracted distributer to meet any deficits. If the contractor can’t meet these requests, Bellon and manpower and personnel search locally for item availability. Local purchases are vetted through the Army to ensure they meet Department of Defense and U.S. health regulations.

In addition to making the food, the 386th EFSS is responsible to for decorating the dining facilities to help provide a festive ambiance for the holiday.

“It’s not a last minute thing, we started decorating the first of the month and is literally going to take us all the way to Thanksgiving Day to complete the dining room,” Simes said. “A part of that is we don’t want to put out everything because we always want there to be some kind of wow factor.”

The Air Force works with a local contractor who helped design and make elaborate eatable art including flowers carved from fresh fruit and a turkey made from butter.

Though some setbacks have made things harder, the staff of the 386th EFSS remains is determined to make the month of planning to become a success by providing a traditional holiday meal with flair.

“We will pull it off regardless, because here we have a mission for morale; to feed people and for them to get to have a meal that is as close to home as possible, that’s what we aim to do,” said Simes.

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing website.