By Mike Howard
Special to the Mountaineer
“You will be able to taste it,” the head cook said without hesitation. “We’re serving our community. It is an honor for us to do this. We won’t be sending out any mediocre food.
“It’s for a good cause.”
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Vickory spoke as the Army cooks unloaded 350 turkeys at the Fort Carson Culinary Arts Academy on a snowy Nov. 23. Vickory is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the academy and the Fort Carson Culinary
Arts Team. He was given the responsibility for pulling off a pretty big undertaking.
He and 25 other volunteer cooks would be preparing meals to be served by the Salvation Army on Thanksgiving. Since the turkeys were all frozen and Vickory figured on a 96-hour marathon to get them all cooked, they would need to start thawing immediately.
Vickory divided his cooks into three groups so that he could run ‘round-the-clock shifts.
For Staff Sgt. James Rush, a member of the Culinary Arts Team, that meant he had time to do one last thing before the cooking marathon would begin. He and Spc. Francisco Jaramillo arrived at the kitchen over the weekend to mix a special butter concoction to use for basting the turkeys.
“We have something special to kick in,” Rush said as the two cooks mixed 40 pound of butter. “Put a little of this under the skin before cooking the turkeys and it will keep them moist and tender.”
And then they cooked turkeys.
Rush and his crew arrived just after midnight and by 1 a.m. Nov. 24, they had the first 50 turkeys in the oven.
Spc. Chrystal Diaz, a cook from Stack Dining Facility, had the honor of carving the first turkeys when she arrived for her shift later that day.
“I know if I needed it, I would want the help myself,” she said between slices. “It is not too often we have these chances to give back to the community for all that it does for us. That is what
I think about when I am doing this.”
The cooks finished the turkeys a little quicker than they expected … in 36 hours, but had plenty of other preparations to complete.
For Gregory Joell, the installation food service program manager, the effort is heartfelt.
“I’ve been here as a cook from private to sergeant first class,” he said. “I helped prepare these meals for the Salvation Army here on post and have served the meals downtown. Now, as the program manager who orchestrates this effort, I think the heartfelt feeling of serving our community has always been there.
“This is humbling. Not just to serve our country, but to serve our community. Everybody is not as fortunate as others. This is a good time to open our hearts up and humble ourselves for others. This is on a big scale. It touches everybody. These are our neighbors outside the gates.”
The cooks returned to the Culinary Arts Academy kitchen for the final stretch. By just before 2 a.m. Thanksgiving, the cooks finished cooking the 20 cases of canned green beans, 250 pounds of stuffing and 200 pounds of mashed potatoes. Then it was a matter of warming up the turkey which had been cooked and carved earlier in the week.
At 7 a.m., the vehicles from the Salvation Army left the loading dock with the prepared meals and headed to deliver the food to various locations in Colorado Springs.
An hour later, the cooks got a visit from the acting senior commander of 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson.
“I want to thank you for all the preparation,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Bills as he walked up to the formation of cooks. “It is a great cause. It’s important — you’re going to feed a lot of people off the street (who) can’t afford to have a Thanksgiving meal.
“You supported their Thanksgiving. A week is a long time to take away from what you normally do at this time of the year. I’ve got to tell you this has been a tradition for many years in providing these meals. The city of Colorado Springs really appreciates you doing this.”
With that, Bills stepped away from the formation.
Vickory dismissed the group with one last direction.
He pointed to the mops in the corner: “Have a great holiday. But first, you’ve got to finish cleaning my dining facility.”
Before 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving, Jaramillo summed it up as he headed to his car.
“I am tired. I am going home to cook my Family dinner. I’ve seen enough turkey over these last few days. But I will go home and cook one last turkey for my three children, wife and mother-in-law since they haven’t had any yet.”