CAMP HANSON, Afghanistan -- With preparations beginning before sunrise, the battalion cooks launched into what may have been their highest profile assignment of the year. Their mission? Prepare a bountiful Thanksgiving feast for infantryman who will subside on little more than prepackaged rations and meals-ready-to-eat for most of a six-month deployment.
Throughout the day, Staff Sgt. David A. Tomlin, the staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of food operations for 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, and his Marines worked tirelessly to ensure everyone received a full belly of turkey.
Across 2/9’s area of operation, Marine food service specialists managed to prepare approximately 550 pounds of turkey, 400 pounds of ham, 330 pounds of steak and serve over 2,000 slices of pie. On top of that, Marines and sailors enjoyed other traditional holiday foods, such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, carrots and corn.
"The chow hall did an amazing job in making the meal, especially under the circumstances we’re in," said Lance Cpl. Ryan T. Howell, an intelligence analyst with 2/9. "It was a pretty amazing meal for being in the middle of Afghanistan. Any time you get something other than a (heated ration), it automatically boosts morale because you’re actually getting freshly prepared food, and it gives you a sense of being back home."
Howell said that although he was away from family and friends, the feast brought a nostalgic holiday feeling that could have been easily overlooked during the daily grind of combat operations.
"You really forget that it’s a holiday," said Howell. "We’ve been out here for so long that the days just tend to blend together ... I didn’t realize it was Thanksgiving until I opened up my email and saw all of these messages saying, ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ The meal definitely brought a sense of Thanksgiving to the day, which helped take a little bit of the edge off from being away from family and the thought of what home would be like during this time of year."
The aromas of holiday cooking filled the air as dinnertime approached. A massive, single-file line stretched outside the mess hall. The clock struck 1600 and the doors flew open. Fall colors and turkey decorations blanketed the normally olive-drab building as empty seats quickly filled. Smiling Marines, shoveled sweet and savory foods into their mouths.
"The best part about it was seeing everyone and how happy they were," said Lance Cpl. Arsenio L. Robinson, a food service specialist with 2/9. "It’s a good feeling when you hear people say, ‘Man that was the best chow I ever had,’ or, ‘this is good; it reminds me of home.’ When I hear that, I know my job was completed."
Each day, food service specialists with 2/9 prepare over 2,500 meals for Marines and sailors throughout their area. According to Tomlin, this was one of his team’s hardest and most successful meals, which made it all the more rewarding for him — especially considering the time of year.
"Out of all the meals we have done, it was probably the best performance we’ve had," said Tomlin. "We didn’t run out of anything and everything was right on point. Everything was a great success."
For the 2/9 food service specialists, the entire process – prepping, serving greeting and cleaning – lasted 19 hours, and according to Tomlin, the job never stops. To him, feeding his brothers-in-arms is more than just a job. It’s a cornerstone of unit morale and a key contribution to combat readiness.
"Like I always say, chow is morale," said Tomlin. "That’s what we do. It’s a continuous process. After a meal like this, it doesn’t stop. After all the cooking, all the cleaning and everyone is fed and happy, we start getting ready for the next meal."
As Tomlin’s crew swept up the the last kernel of corn and turned out the mess hall lights, people in America woke up to Thanksgiving Day parades and pre-game football shows. For the Marines, the fight went on.