FORT LEE, Va. – There is an old tradition in the Army that takes some new soldiers by surprise.
The tradition of non -commissioned officers and officers serving the troops their Thanksgiving dinner is almost as old as the Army itself, and whether at Fort Lee or deployed overseas, it remains a special occasion.
"What can I get you? Baked Ham?" asked First Sergeant Herschel Gillians.
With 27 years in the U.S. Army, the First Sergeant enjoys seeing the faces of his soldiers when they realize who is about to serve them a plate of turkey and ham.
"Their reaction to see the smiles on their face, priceless, priceless," he says.
"We do Thanksgiving, we do Christmas, and even overseas, right now, no matter where they are at -- Afghanistan, Iraq -- they're getting a Thanksgiving meal," says Command Sergeant Major Tim Lebouf, who 28 years ago had his first Army Thanksgiving, at Fort Lee.
Many of the soldiers at Fort Lee are just out of basic training and having their first Thanksgiving in the Army, away from home, so they don't know the tradition.
The surprise is a pleasant one.
"It makes them seem like real people" says Private Amanda LaClair.
And while being away from home is hard for young and veteran soldiers alike, the feast prepared helps ease the homesickness, because it is a meal unlike any they have seen in the Army before: steamship round, lobster, shrimp, turkey legs and all the trimmings.
The projected headcount for Thursday’s Thanksgiving day meal, which included service members, family and retired service members, was approximately 10,400.
The feast consisted of:
8,400 lbs. of roast turkey
5,350 lbs. of shrimp cocktail
4,750 lbs. roast rib of beef
3,000 lbs. of ham
3,000 lbs. of barbecued spare ribs
2,000 lbs. of boiled king crab legs
3,000 lbs. of glazed Cornish hens
8,000 servings of cornbread dressing
2,500 servings of savory bread dressing
7,5000 servings of baked macaroni and cheese
7,500 candied sweet potatoes
5,000 servings of green beans
2,500 servings of black-eye peas
2,500 servings corn on the cob
6,500 servings of collard greens
7,500 servings of cake
7,500 servings of pie
"It's a little bitter-sweet, you know, this is my first Thanksgiving away from home but being around here, it's like my second family, so it feels good," says Private First Class Shanquitia Davis, from North Carolina.
For the Army, tradition and service to their troops are important during the holidays.
"We want our soldiers and our sailors -- Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen -- we want them all to feel like they're at home, that's why this is so important," says Combined Arms Support Commander, Major General Darrell Williams.