Let’s talk turkey.
The basic annual pay for junior enlisted troops comes in around $25,000.
It’s on this salary alone that many are supporting an entire family. During the holidays, these dollars can get extremely tight. So tight that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner might end up “off the table.”
In Kaiserslautern, Germany, there is a USO program that has kept that dinner on the table for the past 14 years, and more and more enlisted troops and families are fed each year.
It’s called Thanks for Thanksgiving, and this year it fed a record 600 junior enlisted and their families!
[caption id=“attachment_7892” align=“alignleft” width=“225”] Junior enlisted troops were individually selected based on their family size and financial needs to receive a full Thanksgiving dinner, complete with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and even a movie to watch with the family. USO photo[/caption]
“It’s the USO’s way of saying “Thank You” for their service during these past years of multiple deployments, long separations of families, and to assist in taking some of the financial stress off their shoulders,” wrote Colleen Lynch, USO Kaiserslautern Area Operations Manager in an email reporting the program’s most successful year to date.
Each year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the USO partners with Army Community Services, the Vogelweh Commissary, and several other community organizations to provide a full, traditional Thanksgiving meal to deserving junior enlisted service members and their families. According to USO Europe, this year’s dinner was also the most generous to date.
Of course, the meal included a sizeable turkey. But in addition, troops received a grocery bag with two boxes of stuffing mix, two cans of green beans, two cans of cranberry sauce, a can of sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, dinner rolls, a can of fruit, a box of hot chocolate mix, 12 Nestle ice cream sandwiches, and a Stars and Stripes newspaper and calendar.
Senior enlisted leadership from each participating unit and the Sergeants Major Association worked together to assemble the bags for their troops at 7 a.m., prior to the first families arriving.
“The program is really about seniors caring for juniors,” said Michael Lewis, Director of Operations for USO Europe. “They personally prepared the bags and personally delivered the groceries to their troops, along with a heartfelt ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’”
The USO mobile canteen was on site serving breakfast burritos, coffee, hot chocolate, hot cider and orange juice, and commissary employees cooked eggs and sausage non-stop from 5:30 am until the end to keep the canteen supplied.
Service Credit Union came through with $25,000 worth of in-kind donations to support the program, including a $25 Visa gift card for each of the families. Once families received their dinner they had the opportunity to select a DVD for each family thanks to Disney and the USO.
“I believe that we have achieved our goal beyond our expectations this year thanks to everyone involved,” wrote Lynch. “On behalf of the USO I would like to express our thanks to each and every one of you involved for making this event so successful and I look forward to continuing the tradition next year! - Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer