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61 tons of meat part of S.C. military base feast

FORT JACKSON -- An 18-pound turkey and trimmings for a family cook can take all day to fix.

Imagine whipping up a feast for 1,650.

That's the job Fort Jackson food service manager Barbara Johnson faced. She was slowly defrosting 525 pounds of turkey, 458 pounds of ham, 400 pounds of beef and 200 pounds of shrimp.

All part of a traditional Southern Thanksgiving dinner for the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion/39th Infantry Regiment coming to her dining hall on the Army's largest basic training installation. Overall, 10 dining halls on the sprawling South Carolina post will feed about 18,500 soldiers, civilians and retirees.

"It's a Southern feast with all the trimmings, cornbread dressing, collard greens, giblet gravy," Johnson said. "It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without gib- let gravy."

Preparations started 72 hours before today's meal. Johnson oversaw the defrosting in special refrigerators set at lowered temperatures, and workers started cooking Wednesday evening to prepare an array of pumpkin, sweet potato, mincemeat and pecan pies for the soldiers, Johnson said.

In all, about 61 tons of ham, turkey, prime rib and duck will be prepared. People also will scarf up 2,000 assorted pies and 1,232 cartons of eggnog shipped in for the feast, said Fort Jackson spokesman Patrick Jones.

Everyone will get a slice of ham, turkey, roast beef and a shrimp cocktail, Johnson said.

It might ease the longing for home for many young soldiers who will spend the holiday for the first time away from their families.

"We decorate the cakes, we even have ice sculptures. We try to make it nice for them. It's beautiful," Johnson said.

On the coast of South Carolina, about 6,000 trainees at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island will line up for a Thanksgiving meal, said Marine Corps spokesman 1st Lt. Josiah Nicely. And drill sergeants won't be barking at them for at least a day because no training is planned.

At other South Carolina installations, about 550 will be served dinner at Charleston Air Force Base the coast and 500 Air Force men, women, retirees and family members will eat at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter.

The commander of the Shaw's 20th Fighter Wing, Col. Joseph Guastella, and the top enlisted commander, Chief Master Sgt. Lefford Fate, plan to serve the meals there, said spokesman Tech. Sgt. Kevin Williams.

"I'm happy to take time during the holiday to show them how much they mean to me," Guastella wrote in an e-mail. "It's the least I can do."

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