Hill Air Force Base Thanksgiving

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — How many dinner guests would have to huddle around your Thanksgiving table to constitute “a large gathering”? 

Twenty? Fifty? One hundred?

To Cesar Vargas, a master sergeant at Hill Air Force Base, all of those numbers are small potatoes.

A jet engine mechanic by trade, Vargas led a group of 100 volunteers who worked to feed about 1,000 Hill airmen and their families on Nov. 24, part of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings’ annual Thanksgiving feast.

Lines stretched the entire length of the hangar as volunteers from inside Hill and in the Top of Utah community dished turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, pie and other classic Turkey Day items onto the plates of hungry Airmen.

So what does it take to host a dinner with a thousand guests? For starters, lots of preparation time, Vargas said.

“We started out in August,” he said. “That’s when we started organizing things and planning. So that’s three, three-and-half months. We were still cutting it close.”

Brian Christensen, a reservist with the 419th Fighter Wing, also helped plan the massive meal. The senior master sergeant said manpower is also a must.

Christensen said a large committee, which also included about 10 different subcommittees, was formed to put on the feast. The work was divided into categories; fundraising, setup, cleanup, even turkey thawing, were assigned to groups and tackled with precision. 

“If cost were no object, we could do this very easily,” Christensen said. “We’d just hire somebody to do all of it. But it doesn’t quite work that way.”

Vargas said donations for the meal came from individuals, small businesses, big businesses — and a spouses organization on base made most of the pies and desserts.

“Whatever entity that was willing to help,” Vargas said. 

Golden Corral catered a large portion of the meal, Texas Roadhouse donated rolls and Moon Dog’s Cafe in Layton smoked the meats.

Vargas said the meal included 71 turkeys — 50 of which were donated — and about 30 hams.

“It’s a lot of meat,” he said. 

Vargas said he expected leftovers after the dust settled, food that would be donated to local shelters.

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