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Fort Leonard Wood will set its Thanksgiving table for 12,000 this year

Soldiers stationed at Fort Leonard Wood enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in this 2018 photo. This year, the installation will serve more than 12,000 meals.
Dawn Arden
Fort Leonard Wood
Soldiers stationed at Fort Leonard Wood enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in this 2018 photo. This year, the installation will serve more than 12,000 meals.

A common question for people hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is how many guests they will have.

At Fort Leonard Wood, the answer is 12,000.

While the military installation in Missouri’s Ozarks 140 miles southwest of St. Louis serves three meals every day, the Thanksgiving dinner is its biggest and most meaningful of the year.

For the most part, operations at the military post carry on as normal the week of Thanksgiving, with thousands of recruits in basic or advanced individual training continuing their early days in the military under the instruction of drill sergeants and other Army staff.

“For a lot of the trainees, this may be the first time in their lives they have been away from family for Thanksgiving,” said Beverly Leggett, installation food program manager at Fort Leonard Wood. “We take that very seriously and want to give them something special.”

Most meals at Fort Leonard Wood consist of a couple of choices of entrees, starches and vegetables. Desserts and candies are not part of the usual menu.

But on Thanksgiving, Fort Leonard Wood provides three times the normal options. That will amount to a projected 7,000 pounds of turkey, 1,500 pounds of shrimp, 1,500 pounds of prime rib and 2,000 assorted cakes and pies.

“We were given the ability to create our own menu versus doing what the requirement is from big Army,” Leggett said. “We tried to make sure the traditional foods from across the country are here.”

That means side dishes will include baked macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and collard greens.

“We did everything we could to make sure everyone would see something they recognize from their home Thanksgiving, regardless if they are from the West Coast, the East Coast or the South,” she said.

Also new this year is a vegetarian entree option: an acorn squash casserole.

Most of the diners will be soldiers stationed on post, but they will also include veterans, retirees and Gold Star Families — family members of those who died while serving.

Leggett said everyone at the table is important, but her mind is especially with those young recruits.

“I want them to remember how Thanksgiving was while they were stationed at Fort Leonard Wood. I want them to remember that we love them. We care about them, and we are here to support them and provide the very best for them,” she said.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. His duties also include covering central and southern Missouri for Harvest Public Media. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.