Montana Air National Guard continues holiday dinner tradition

Holiday traditions for many members of the Montana Air National Guard includes cooking for the Danny Berg Memorial Christmas Dinner.

Every Christmas Eve for 17 years, the 120th Airlift Wing’s dining facility has been taken over to prepare turkey, gravy and stuffing for the dinner that is served on Christmas at the Great Falls senior center.

Senior Master Sgt. William Gamradt of the 219th RED HORSE Squadron was busy carving turkeys Monday morning. He’s been has been volunteering for the dinner prep for the last five years or so.

It’s good to serve the community, he said, but the holiday tradition is also a good way to spend time with fellow Guard members outside of work.

“I came up one year and was instantly hooked,” Gamradt said.

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

The dinner started in the early 1990s, when retired Montana Air National Guard 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.

120th Commander Col. Buel Dickson was also on carving duty on Monday and brought his son with him to help carve.

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“It’s fun and being up here, being part of the team, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “It makes for a nice time. You kinda look forward to it after awhile.”

Master Sgt. Bob Osier, is one of the coordinators for the Guard’s portion of the event.

This year, about 50 Guard members volunteered, some of them starting at 4 a.m. to get turkeys in the oven. Many bring family members along.

They work in teams: turkey cooking, gravy stirring, vegetable chopping for stuffing, turkey carving, delivery and more. The task in the kitchen dictates their start time on Christmas Eve, Osier said.

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This was the 17th year that the 120th has participated in the event by preparing the meals, Osier said, but it’s the 26th year the Danny Berg Dinner has been held in Great Falls.

Osier is the base facilities manager and he and Master Sgt. Troy Anderson are the ringleaders for coordinating 120th volunteers and running the kitchen for the annual  Christmas Eve cooking day on base.

“It couldn’t get done without the volunteers,” Osier said. And the Guard members enjoy volunteering, some returning year after year, because “it’s a tremendous way to give back to the community because Great Falls supports us so well up here. They have fun and do an extraordinary job.”

The volunteers finish cooking around noon and the delivery team loads up vehicles to take the food to the senior center.

They were prepping for the 26th 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.