Guardsmen volunteer to prepare annual dinner

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson
  • 120th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Over 30 members of the Montana Air National Guard volunteered Christmas Eve to assist with cooking 38 turkeys and preparing all the trimmings intended to be served at the Great Falls Senior Citizens Center during the 21st annual Danny Berg Memorial Christmas Dinner.

The annual event has become a growing tribute to the local caring community organizer who began the dinner as a way to help homeless and shut-in residents enjoy the holiday season.

Master Sgt. Danny Berg served as a member of the 120th Security Forces Squadron until his retirement from the MTANG July 12, 1995.

"Danny Berg started this many years ago and he saw the need for a Christmas dinner that would support the local community and help people in need. It started out small, but it's grown to what we have today," said Chief Master Sgt. Martin Leonard, who arrived at the 120th Fighter Wing Dining Facility to start the equipment at 4 a.m. Christmas Eve.

Dinner organizers estimated that they would serve a record 600 dinners during this year's event.

Crews of Guardsmen arrived at predetermined times staggered throughout the morning to prepare the turkey and seasonings, cook the birds, prepare the gravy and stuffing and carve the turkeys.

120th Fighter Wing Commander Col. J. Peter Hronek arrived at 9 a.m. to join the team in charge of carving the freshly cooked turkeys.

"It's the spirit of Christmas and we enjoy doing it," said Col. Hronek. "We're very fortunate as military members in this community and it's always great to give back because it's just in our nature, service before self."

The Guard volunteers worked hard to make sure all of the food was ready before the delivery crew arrived at noon to pick up the Christmas dinner and bring it downtown to the Senior Citizens Center.

"If we didn't do it there's no other facility in the city that could support 38 turkeys and cook them all at one time. We are all part of this community and it shows community involvement. I think it's a very good positive thing this unit does for the community," said Leonard.

120th Force Support Squadron member Senior Airman Brent Cochran offered to come to the base on Christmas Eve to season and cook the turkeys.

"Chief Leonard let me know that we were going to cook turkeys on Tuesday morning and he said it was for a good cause, so I volunteered," said Cochran. "It's the least we can do, we have a big facility and we all know how to use it. It's pretty awesome. I didn't know that they actually did this until a couple days ago."

Wade Gehl serves as the chairman of the dinner committee and gives credit for the continuing success of the annual event to the community organizer and retired Guardsman that cared to make sure everyone had an opportunity to enjoy the holiday meal.

"It's a wonderful tribute to Danny for starting something like this with the community. This is my 19th year and in the beginning we served about 60 people and cooked the turkeys on our own," said Gehl. There's just no way it could have grown to this magnitude if it were just us guys and we didn't have the Guard's help."