FORT LEE, Va. (WRIC) — The traditional Thanksgiving feast for troops at Fort Lee will be different this year due to the threat of COVID-19.
“Due to the pandemic, we’re unable to serve civilians and retirees,” Logistics Readiness Center Food Program Manager Richard Bennett said. “Service is limited to installation students and cadre only.”
Bennett says veterans, retirees, and family members have, in years past, added warmth and familiarity to the students’ dining experience, but that the exclusion from this year’s meal was necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Our priority on this installation is soldiers, and we share that in our facilities — a commitment to ensuring their health and welfare,” Bennett said. “They have to come first.”
According to a Thursday release, about 2,000 pounds each of turkey and ham; 1,800 pounds of prime rib; 1,000 pounds of sweet potatoes; 500 pounds of salmon; 250 gallons of macaroni and cheese; and 350 pies and other holiday treats will be served at the installation’s five dining facilities.
Over the course of the pandemic, Fort Lee officials say a long list of precautions have been put in place at the dining facilities, or DFACs, to keep military members and employees safe. Some of those measures will prevent cadre and senior leaders from partaking in a decades-old Thanksgiving tradition, as well.
“The command teams usually go into the DFAC to serve the soldiers (from behind the serving lines),” Command Sgt. Maj. Ivy L. Guido, 59th Ordnance Brigade CSM said. “It always puts a smile on their faces when the leadership is present to serve them during the holiday. This year, we will not be able to do that due to the conditions we’re under.”
Thanksgiving-themed decorative projects adorning tables, foyers, and entrances will also be minimized this year as part of strategies to “minimize touches,” and, therefore, the potential for spreading COVID-19, Bennett says.
“I can almost guarantee these commands will ensure there is a sense of fellowship for students on Thanksgiving Day,” Guido said. “It’s my job to ensure the food is there and prepared properly, but commanders are going to ensure they make this meal as festive as possible for soldiers.”
According to a release, each initial entry training unit at Fort Lee will have a designated Thanksgiving meal time at their assigned dining facility. Officials say the schedule has been expanded this year to ensure the implementation of appropriate social distancing and crowd limit safeguards.