The reservists are training to deploy to Iraq. The California National Guard soldiers are returning from a yearlong tour in Kosovo.
That meant another Thanksgiving away from family.
But, they said Thursday, they weren’t alone on the holiday.
Food servers – including guest appearances by members of the hospital’s command staff in dress uniform – dished up turkey, ham and roast beef for about 300 soldiers, patients, employees and family members at the Madigan Army Medical Center cafeteria.
The group of six soldiers sat around a table, cracking jokes, sharing stories and digging into turkey and mashed potatoes.
“I’ve missed three Thanksgivings with family in a row now,” said Spc. Jacob Miller, a Louisiana native set to deploy with a medical detachment. “So to be able to have friends in this unit and have the Army set this up, it means so much. It’s just beautiful.”
A comedian who has been performing at the hospital played smooth tunes on the keyboard. The dining area featured a large dessert spread and an ice swan sculpture.
Earlier in the day, Madigan commander Col. Jerry Penner visited the 100 or so patients in the hospital to deliver gift baskets.
“It’s very, very humbling the way they’ve presented everything,” said Capt. Jeff Finley of the 480th Medical Detachment.
The chow received good reviews, too.
“The food is great,” Spc. Florecia Philogene said. “They really went all out today.”
Soldiers from across the nation stay at Fort Lewis to train for a deployment or to fill out paperwork and attend briefings after a tour abroad. The 480th Medical Detachment, based in Columbia, Mo., is a preventative medicine unit that will be headquartered in Balad, Iraq.
Four of the detachment’s soldiers shared their table with two soldiers from two companies of the California National Guard, who are returning from a year in southern Kosovo, in a mountainous region near the Serbian border.
They performed daily patrols, provided security, conducted humanitarian aid missions and worked joint missions with the Swedish military.
“It’s nice to be able to sit back, relax, have a good meal and share stories of our deployment with guys about to leave,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Reed of the California National Guard.
Maryflor Castillo, who works in the patient administration department of the hospital, had to work Thursday. And with her husband working as a civilian employee for NATO in Germany, she chose to eat at Madigan with her son, J.J. “It’s a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” she said. “What more can you ask for?”
Ronald and J.B. Barton also were first-timers at the Madigan Thanksgiving meal. The couple has nine children, and they’re usually at home cooking for many of them.
But they decided to eat at the hospital, where Ronald, a retired colonel, works as a dentist.
“The food is wonderful, the environment is wonderful, the music is magical,” J.B. Barton said. “It’s been a perfect Thanksgiving day.”