Some of these soldiers are not, in fact, home for the holidays. But to many, it feels like they are because they are able to spend the holidays with their second family: each other.
The sense of camaraderie was strong Wednesday morning in the Fort Wainwright Wolves Den Dining Facility, where hundreds of soldiers gathered to share an early Thanksgiving meal.
The sounds of lively conversation and clinking cutlery accompanied plates piled high with everything from mac and cheese to lobster tails, as well as the traditional Thanksgiving fare complete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and rolls.
Jimmy Clark has been the manager of the Wolves Den Dining Facility for two years. He said putting together this meal makes him feel like he’s contributing to the morale of the troops.
“To build the camaraderie between the soldiers,” Clark said in listing his favorite thing about the event. “Making everybody feel like we’re a whole, big family, especially with a lot of them being away from families. That’s the best part about doing what I do.”
The effort was certainly appreciated with a line of hungry soldiers and family members leading out the door of the dining hall.
Deonte Singletary, a 91E welder who has been in Alaska for about a year, said the gathering helps ease the missing of family members.
His family is back in North Carolina.
“This is my first Thanksgiving in Alaska,” Singletary said. “But this is my family here too now.”
Singletary couldn’t quite pick his favorite part of the meal. He wasn’t nearly done yet, he said.
But for 1st Lt. Josh Wells, having traditional Thanksgiving food was a fun, new experience.
“I grew up in an Italian household and we had lasagna each year instead of turkey,” he said with a laugh. “So having a traditional Thanksgiving is kind of a new thing for me. If they had said they had lasagna on the menu, I probably would have gotten like three plates of it.”
Wells was commissioned in 2014 and has been in Alaska for about three years, moving here from Virginia. He’ll be changing stations in about about seven months but said the family he’s made in Fairbanks has made the holidays easier.
“Alaska has definitely been a unique experience, a different experience, but one that I’m glad to have had,” Wells said.
He said he might try to make a Thanksgiving lasagna on Thursday.
“It wouldn’t do my mother’s any justice, but I’ll probably give it a shot,” he said.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.