MANG airmen and families make holiday tradition of preparing annual Danny Berg dinner

Christmas Eve for many members of the Montana Air National Guard, means an early morning at the base dining hall preparing turkeys, gravy and stuffing.

This year was no different and about 45 airmen and their families volunteered throughout the morning to put 50 turkeys in the over, chop onions and celery for stuffing and stir all the lumps out of the 15-20 gallons of gravy.

They were prepping for the 25th annual Danny Berg Memorial Christmas Dinner, which is set for noon to 3 p.m. on Christmas Day at the Great Falls Senior Citizen Center, 1004 Central Ave. For those who’d like to attend but don’t have transportation, call Wade Gehl at 781-6347.

The dinner started in 1992, when retired MANG Master Sgt. Danny Berg found a need to provide a meal for local residents who might night have family members or friends to spend the holiday with, according to the Guard. Berg was also a Town House employee and for a quarter century, the company has donated most of the turkeys for the dinner.

Berg passed away in 2008 after battling cancer, but left behind an endowment for the annual dinner and the community has continued to support the event through donations and volunteers.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Ruth Mortag and her 16-year-old daughter, Georgia, were manning the gravy station Sunday morning. Mortag has been making gravy most years since 1996 and Georgia, a junior at Cascade High School, has been helping out for the last few years.

Mortag and fellow gravy mixers joked that they’ve been winging it on the gravy recipe, but “we’ve been lump free for years.”

She comes back every year, she said, for “the camaraderie and doing something nice for the community at Christmastime.”

Georgia said she volunteers because it “makes me feel good about helping other people.”

Master Sgt. Frank Barille and his daughter, Airman 1st Class Amy Barille we chopping celery and onions for the two dozen roasting pans filled with stuffing.

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Members of the Montana Air National Guard prepare pans of dressing at the 120th Airlift Wing Dining Facility on Dec. 24, 2017. Guardsmen and their families volunteered to prepare the dressing, 50 turkeys and gravy and delivered the food to the Great Falls Senior Citizen Center to be served during the 25th annual Danny Berg Memorial Christmas Dinner. U.S. Air National Guard photo/Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson 

This year was Frank’s fourth time volunteering and Amy’s first.

Frank said he’d read the news stories about the dinner and heard the internal promotion at the unit and it made him want to find out what was going on.

“It gets a lot of us together,” he said. “And it gives us a good feeling of giving back to the community.”

He said that many of the airmen who volunteer for the holiday dinner prep don’t work in the same units and may not work together regularly or see each other often around base.

“It gets us out of our day-to-day work, we relax a little bit, have fun and get to know each other better,” Frank Barille said.

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Members of the Montana Air National Guard carry a pan of cooked turkeys to a warming oven for the 25th annual Danny Berg Memorial Dinner. U.S. Air National Guard photo/Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson

The Guardsmen started prepping turkeys at 5 a.m. Christmas Eve and continued stuffing and gravy making throughout the morning.

Col. Buel Dickson, 120th Airlift Wing commander, along with Command Chief Master Sgt. Steven Lynch and others carved turkeys and the foodstuffs were all delivered to the senior center in the afternoon.

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120th Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Steven Lynch carves a turkey on Christmas Eve in preparation for the Danny Berg dinner on Dec. 25 at the Great Falls Senior Citizen Center. U.S. Air National Guard photo/Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson

In 2016, MANG volunteers cooked 52 turkeys, and prepared the stuffing and gravy for the dinner that served about 500 community members, according to 120th Services Support Squadron Superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Marty Leonard.

Lt. Col. Josh Cinq-Mars, with his wife, who’s also a Guard member, and their little brother from Big Brothers, Big Sisters, were helping again this year.

“We love being around everybody,” he said. “It’s for a great cause and it’s really cool they do this as a community.”