While the rest of the country gathered around the dinner table for a hearty turkey meal, the USO of North Carolina, Jacksonville provided some meals in a different setting — Marine combat training.
Junior Marines training at Camp Devil Dog were animated Thursday afternoon, with some watching football on big screens, some playing corn hole, and others sitting down for a four-course meal. The smiles on their faces and high fives across the classroom where they were being served were all the thanks needed.
“I love seeing the smiles on their faces,” Holly Coffer, USO of North Carolina, Jacksonville director, said. “We just love them (and) we love supporting them. It’s an honor.”
Volunteers at the USO and even MCT and company commanding officers served turkey, mashed potatoes, and more to the young Marines.
“I think personally for me (it’s rewarding) just serving them,” Lt. Col. Clark Mitchell, MCT commanding officer, said with a smile. Mitchell, along with others, made the dinner a family affair by bringing his wife and children to serve the Marines.
“It’s great to get face-to-face with the junior Marines (and) understand where they’re from, talk to them about how training’s going, ask them how they’re doing,” he said. “Of course, they’re missing home, but this kind of replaces something they’re missing.”
The opportunity, he said, to talk one-on-one with their commanding officer may be an “opportunity of a lifetime.”
Mitchell wasn’t the only one to think this Thanksgiving dinner was beneficial to the Marines and would provide them the sense of home they may be missing.
“I think this is great for the morale, for the Marines as a whole, especially for the Marines that are coming through for training. They’ve sacrificed a lot joining the ,” Capt. John J. Parry, commanding officer of India Company, said. “They’ve already sacrificed the initial three months, going through the intense recruit training. And then they’ve come here and it’s a very intense evolution and so I think it’s good for them that we’ve taken the time to observe the Thanksgiving holiday and to provide them the opportunity to get a little down time, speak with their families, and enjoy some good food.”
A little rest during Thanksgiving, he said, would get the Marines mentally ready to resume their training Friday, as their graduation date approaches in the next two weeks.
After returning from a rough three days on the range, Capt. Chad Wilson, commanding officer of Kilo Company, said he thought the meal would provide a more long-term effect, showing the Marines that no matter where they are in their career, he and others are always looking out for their Marines.
“I don’t think they expected it when they showed up here,” he said.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joe Grabbert said the Marines appreciate holidays and family more being in the .
“Being by yourself away from home, stretches your umbilical cord,” he said. “And it actually becomes a day of reflection and it makes you appreciate all those moments that you had growing up with those people and all those relationships, and then when you come back home, one of the first things that you want to do is just hone those relationships.”
The moment, he said, becomes a thought and it’s that thought they’ll carry throughout their entire life.
Having served 28 years in the , Jeff Weller, the local USO’s center coordinator, understood the importance of a home-cooked meal to the training Marines.
Most Marines, retired or active, get to experience this, he said.
“These Marines are stuck out here. It’s a piece of home for them,” Weller said.
Between the two companies, USO representatives said they expected to feed about 900 Marines in training on Thanksgiving.
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