Local San Antonio community gives back on Thanksgiving

  • Published
  • By Christa D'Andrea
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – In a heartwarming demonstration of gratitude, “Giving back to those who serve” was a common theme among the more than 330 San Antonio families picking up Basic Military Training trainees on Thanksgiving Day for Operation Home Cooking.

Families streamed through the Pfingston Reception Center early Thanksgiving morning, eagerly awaiting to meet their trainees. For the trainees in their sixth week of training, this was a welcomed opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with a supportive "adopted" family.

San Antonio resident Teresa Grady, who hosted for three years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, joyfully resumed the tradition this year.

She shared the plans for the day, emphasizing, “It consists of family, food and we play games and watch football.” Her emotional connection to Operation Home Cooking stems from her daughters’ service in the Air Force and Navy, motivating her to give back by serving a traditional dinner to the trainees.

Trainees Keisei Velez Yamaoka, from Mississippi, and Nolan Hall, from North Carolina, were to spend the day with Grady and her family.

They were both looking forward to turkey and echoed their appreciation for the community’s support, “a lot of people can’t see their families for Thanksgiving so having this support system is great,” Velez Yamoaka said.

For many families, the day meant showing appreciation to those who have chosen to serve their country.

Leslie Brown, and her husband Daniel, both veterans, have been hosting in their home since 2006. Leslie currently the Chief, Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs at JBSA-Randolph, emphasized the importance of creating a sense of family for these young trainees.

Leslie recalls when she joined the Air Force more than 30 years ago that spending the holidays without family was difficult, “We want to share our home so they [trainees] wouldn’t have to experience that too.”

“My family and I enjoy hosting … and we want them to know they are appreciated for what they have chosen to do – defend our freedoms,” she added. “Hosting them for dinner is the least I could do.”

The Brown family said they enjoyed getting to know Trainees Hayden Schulze and Jack Canter, and talked about what their future holds as both will move on to learn how to maintain the F-35 fighter aircraft.

As the morning progressed and the number of trainees left to be picked up dwindled, Rose Stevens of San Antonio, eagerly awaited in hopes of hosting anyone who didn’t get picked up.

Stevens and her extended family (the Schreibers) have hosted for more than 28 of the 48 years the program has been in existence. For her, trainees don’t just spend the day with her and the extended family, they become permanent members.

“It’s actually our favorite holiday of the year,” Stevens described. “My mom is 91 and last night she asked me if I was going to pick up 'kids' … because they all become her kids.”

Stevens, who used to work at the Lackland Independent School district on the installation, is from a large multi-service military family and when she found out she would be able to take six trainees home with her, she was ecstatic.

“We love these kids and love what they give up [to serve],” she said affectionately. “They are away from their homes and families, and we just want to give back.”

Stevens said they let them “do their own thing, we have a lot of space for them to hang out and my sister actually has a table-cover where the Airmen add their handprint … because they become our family."

She said her mom’s face lit up when the trainees arrived at the Schrieber home.

For Stevens and the entire Schreiber family this annual event extends beyond Air Force trainees.

The Schreiber family first picked up Army Master Sergeant Bryan Essing and a friend for Thanksgiving when they were Advanced Individual Training students at Ft. Sam Houston in 2009.

“They [the Schreibers] take in a lot of Soldiers and Airmen and give them a family to celebrate Thanksgiving with,” Essing said, now stationed in Schofield  Barracks, Hawaii. “It’s a life-changing experience primarily because it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, they are going to feed you and take care of you. That was my first experience of an Army family outside of blood. I’ve been in the Army 14 years … and I still go back.”

Operation Home Cooking wasn’t the only way the local community supported military members this Thanksgiving. The Knights of Columbus and the Hill Country Retreat veteran’s group also served meals to more than 100 technical training students at local events, while the 37th Training Wing, group and squadron leadership and their families were serving more than 4,000 basic trainees in the dining facilities.

“Serving the Thanksgiving meal to our trainees was an awesome experience,” said Lt. Col. Rodolfo Orozco, 321st Training Squadron commander, whose family joined him for the day.

He said from the hardworking dining facility crew to the hungry trainees, the interaction between the team was special, “It’s important for our trainees at BMT to see and connect with their leadership and wingmen alike, and to understand we are all in this together … especially on holidays and through the tougher times.”

Orozco described serving as a unifying moment that will resonate for a long time, “they too will learn from this example and carry it forward throughout their careers,” he said of the trainees.

In total, nearly 5,000 trainees and students were fed a Thanksgiving meal.

Col. Lauren Courchaine, 37 TRW commander expressed her appreciation for the outpouring of support from the community, “The shared camaraderie and support exemplified the strong bond between the military and the San Antonio community made this Thanksgiving a truly memorable and meaningful experience for those who serve.”