For the third straight year, new soldiers just assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord enjoyed a welcoming Thanksgiving dinner.
"These young soldiers are new to JBLM, and for the majority of them this is their first Thanksgiving away from home," commented Herb Schmeling, vice president, Eastside Subchapter of the Capt. Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the Association of the United States Army.
"The last thing they expect is to be warmly welcomed by the community."
Approximately 100 soldiers assigned to the Reception Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, assembled the night before Thanksgiving in the Regency Room in the Anderson University Center on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University.
AUSA and PLU partnered to provide the food, decorations, the staff and space for the event.
When the soldiers first entered the center, they walked a gauntlet of clapping from about a dozen smiling university officials and staff.
"This is exciting to see and be a part of," commented Capt. Kristen Rutledge, the company's commander.
"Many of these soldiers have just left training and have arrived here, and this dinner is the first time they've experienced a piece of home."
Standing to the side with a radiant smile was Capt. Jamie Russell, former Reception Company commander and a force behind the history of the feast.
"This is my baby," she said, as the soldiers walked by.
"A couple of years ago I wondered how we could change things for new soldiers in a new place with no where to go. This is it."
A dozen tables graced in white linen, silverware, water glasses waited.
At each table, two members of the local community joined the soldiers to talk with and get to know them.
To the side, an empty chair by a smaller, round table draped in white tablecloth bearing a Bible, a black napkin, one red rose, a yellow candle and ribbon, slices of lemon, salt on a bread plate, and an upturned wine glass stood in silent tribute to those POW/MIAs not able to be present.
"As you walk by with your dinner, give those men and women a nod in remembrance," said Mike Farnum, PLU's director of military outreach.
Waiting for the soldiers were large trays of mashed potatoes, turkey and ham accompanied by bowls of salad, cranberry sauce, plates of pies and baskets of dinner rolls.
"This is a good cause we work for here," commented Bertha Munoz, a caterer for the university's hospitality services.
"I will be looking forward to seeing this dinner again next year."
For PV2 Kao Hang, it was time to enjoy the dinner.
"I've been in the Army for just six months," he said moments after sitting down at a table.
"JBLM is my first assignment, and this is a very nice gesture on the part of the community. It is too good to be true."