Back to News Front

Thanksgiving feast creates connection

PLU and AUSA come together to feed young soldiers

Pacific Lutheran University hosted a Thanksgiving feast for approximately seventy soldiers, most of them young and new to Joint Base Lewis McChord, Nov. 25. The meal was put together by the Eastide Sub Chapter of the AUSA. Courtesy photo

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

It was a different kind of Thanksgiving feast for 70 or so soldiers Wednesday, Nov. 25.  The setting was Anderson Hall, at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).  The catered meal was served on white tablecloths.  The caterers themselves had stayed hours after the other employees of the University were home with their own families.  Thomas W. Krise, President of the University, was present, as was Art Thiel, keynote speaker.  As the soldiers entered the building, they were treated to applause and handshakes all around.

These heroes being treated weren't disabled veterans or decorated old-timers: these were all young soldiers in transition, all new to JBLM, many fresh from AIT. Greg Hollmann, President of the Eastside Sub-Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), explains that as soldiers are being processed into a new base, effectively, "these soldiers are homeless for this week." He adds that this dining event was designed as a way of "opening our arms to them and making them feel welcome."

The genesis of the program happened during a board meeting of the AUSA Captain Merriwether Lewis Eastside Sub-Chapter two years ago, when HHC Company Commander Jamie Russell expressed a plea: "I have these soldiers who have nowhere to go for Thanksgiving." Board members rallied support from existing ties with PLU Military Liaison Mark Farnum and the university itself, with the Eastside Sub-chapter paying for half of the costs associated with the meal, and the university picking up the rest of the tab. Last year the first annual event was formed, with a commitment from PLU to host the event for in-processing soldiers in limbo every year.

Hollmann explains that the mission of the AUSA is to give soldiers a voice, advocate for soldiers in the community, and rally community support for soldiers. The relatively young (established for about three years) Eastside Sub-Chapter forged alliances with PLU early in their formation, helping create a Military Liaison position at that college (filled by Mark Farnum).  This led to the university creating a military appreciation football game (held annually around Veterans Day), which led to even more military support in the form of the first Thanksgiving Dinner (Operation Thanksgiving?) held last year.  

Hollmann emphasizes one noteworthy component of the event: "putting the military into colleges is unheard of," he noted.  But as PLU President Krise is a retired Air Force Colonel and his university sits in a neighborhood with a large military population, a pro-military community sentiment may be easily achieved.  "That relationship is important," commented Hollmann.

Equally important were the experiences mutually shared between soldiers and volunteers. Hollmann said, "this was not a vendor event."  There were no sales people hawking wares; speeches were short and emphasized the community the soldiers were coming into.  The underlying idea behind the meal was, "come in, relax ... we know you're away from home - let us be family tonight." To that end opportunities were created for minlging and conversations. "We had one volunteer at each table to get them talking. We split up the soldiers so they weren't sitting with friends," Hollmann explained. Sandi Lewis, one of the table volunteers, shared a comment made to her as the evening progressed, when a soldier told her, "you're my mother tonight," mused Hollman, "we really reached them on a different level."

Read next close


Luckiest veteran alive

comments powered by Disqus