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Operation Thanksgiving Dinner welcomes JBLM newcomers

PLU and AUSA worked together to give soldiers Thanksgiving dinner

Soldiers listen to remarks from PLU’s Director of Military Outreach, SFC Michael Farnum, retired, welcoming them to Operation Thanksgiving Dinner. Photo credit: Margaret Bicker

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When soldiers first arrive on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, it can take a week or two -- or sometimes even longer -- to in-process and start work at a new unit. Those weeks can be frustrating and tedious during the best of times, but when new arrivals find themselves stuck in the barracks over the holidays, far away from family and friends, well, it can kind of stink.

Four years ago, the Captain Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) from JBLM, and Pacific Lutheran University, came up with a plan to make the holidays a little bit brighter for newcomers to JBLM -- Operation Thanksgiving Dinner.

Last week, on a warm, rainy Thanksgiving Eve, busses loaded with newly arrived soldiers from JBLM's HHC pulled on to the campus of PLU. As the soldiers entered Anderson University Center, they were greeted by the applause of leaders and representatives from the university, the community and JBLM, including Allan Belton, PLU president; Maj. Gen. Willard Burleson, 7th Infantry Division commander; Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Mulryan, JBLM CSM; Capt. Kristen Rutledge, HHC JBLM commander; retired Col. Stephen Myers, president of the East Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the AUSA; retired Command Sgt. Maj. Herb Schmelling; retired Maj. Gen. John Hemphill; retired Maj. Gen. and PLU alumnus Jimmy Collins; and Roy City Councilman Harvey Gilchrist.

Director of Military Outreach for PLU and PLU's corporate AUSA member, retired Sgt. 1st Class Michael S. Farnum, welcomed the soldiers and explained "why tonight is not going to suck," then Myers presented an award recognizing Greg Hollman, the past president of the local AUSA chapter, for his faithful service and his role in making Operation Thanksgiving Dinner a reality.   

Following a brief invocation, the soldiers, joined by JBLM brass and community leaders, were treated to a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, prepared and served by PLU's hospitality services and student volunteers.

"PLU and the AUSA appreciate the sacrifices these soldiers are making," Farnum explained. "We hope this dinner will carry them through the long weekend with smiles on their faces."

"We're grateful to PLU and the AUSA for providing Thanksgiving dinner for these guys who might not get the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving otherwise," said 1st Lt. Michael Rossi, HHC executive officer.

"It's a good opportunity to get out of the barracks and relax," added Rutledge. "It's a taste of home and their first family dinner with their new JBLM family."

Newly arrived Spc. Kaitlyn Waldron, a first-year medic from St. Mary's County, Maryland, expressed her appreciation for the Thanksgiving dinner.

"I'm 100 percent across the country from my family," she said. "It's nice to have a change of pace and get to know the Army community here."

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