Ann and Danny Schladetzky are both Army retirees. For the last 14 years, they’ve welcomed soldiers into their home on Thanksgiving day. For many young soldiers attending training at Fort Sam Houston, it’s their first major holiday away from home.
The Schladetzkys are part of an program called Mission Thanksgiving. The program at Fort Sam Houston started more than 20 years ago, when area families and installation chaplains joined together to offer soldiers a break from training — and the chance to spend Thanksgiving in a family environment.
The Schladetzkys were busy with preparations Wednesday afternoon. Ann rattled off her to-do list.
“Well you’ve got to make sure the house is clean,” she said. “I do some cooking the day before. We inject the turkey, because we fry a turkey.”
Her husband, Danny, chimed in.
“We usually have about 26, 27 pounds of turkey,” he said.
The Schladetzkys were expecting a lot of food to make its way to their home in Cibolo.
“My daughter’s bringing a green bean casserole, because you can’t have Thanksgiving without the green bean casserole. The neighbors have got the pies,” she said.
Ann said she likes a full house during Thanksgiving, and that she understands what it is to feel lonely during the holidays.
“It’s hard to be away from home during the holidays,” she said. “If we can make it a little easier, we try to do it.”
In 2016, a record 234 families and 634 soldiers participated in Mission Thanksgiving. This year, more than 550 soldiers are expected to need placements.
“Typically, soldiers would go to the dining facility on the installation, but it wasn’t the same as being at home or around loved ones,” said Maj. Alvin Williamson, with the 264th Medical Battalion, which organized the annual event. “So this is like the next best thing.”
Private Second Class Idalias Clyce, 21, and fellow soldier Private First Class Mackenzie Young, 18, will be spending the holiday with a local family that they’ll meet Thursday morning. But that wasn’t always the plan.
“I thought I would I be home for Thanksgiving, so my mom got really excited. And then I had to tell a couple days ago that I wouldn’t be coming home, and that I had to go with another family. That was really hard,” Clyce said.
Young has been in the Army since May. Her leave was cut short, so she wasn’t able stay at home in Houston for the holiday. Her parents wished she had been able to stay longer.
“They were kind of hoping that my leave would extend to Thanksgiving, but it ended shortly before. They were kind of upset. But they’re glad that I can still go spend Thanksgiving with a real family and actually have a real meal,” Young said.
Both Young and Clyce said that they’re grateful to the families who welcome soldiers in. All of the soldiers in their particular company have found a place to go.
“Luckily no one’s getting left behind,” Clyce said.