When Fort Meade's top leaders cover their dress blues with aprons to carve turkeys, the soldiers stand in line for the chance to tell their bosses where to drop the meat on a plate.
Then those service members wade through the chow line for seconds.
For three hours Thursday, military leaders at Fort Meade served more than 500 Thanksgiving meals to service members who couldn't go home for the holiday. With ribbons and medals glistening on their dress uniforms, senior staff members took places behind the serving stations at the Freedom Inn.
"It's a wonderful, symbolic gesture we do every year," said Col. Brian P. Foley, garrison commander at Fort Meade. "It's our way of showing them how much we value their service."
As service members, retirees and visiting family members shuffled through the chow line, a woman in a white dress belted out holiday carols next to a table overflowing with vanilla and chocolate cupcakes.
Fort Meade, home to the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, is Maryland's largest employer and supports about 56,000 jobs.
Chefs at the base started preparing the food on Sunday. The meal included more than 220 pounds of turkey, 120 pounds of roast beef, 80 pounds of shrimp and 90 pounds of crab legs. A new item on the menu this year: three pigs.
"I'm tired of food," joked head chef Howard Mountain. "I cook for this many people every day."
Mountain, who has worked at the base for 20 years, said he can understand how enlisted members enjoy watching officers scoop mashed potatoes and pour gravy, especially since it's normally those commanders who give the marching orders.
"They see [the officers] in a different role," Mountain said. "They love it."