CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Feb. 5, 2021) – It was around noon when Sgt. Nikita Pascual learned she and her team of field cooks would, in less than 24 hours, be taking over full operation of a dining facility that feeds an average of 300 Soldiers per day.
“It happened so quickly, so fast,” said Pascual, a culinary noncommissioned officer assigned to the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, but currently acting as manager of the Camp Zama Dining Facility.
On the morning of Jan. 21, Louis Sabia, interim director for Logistics Readiness Center – Honshu, which oversees operations of the facility, made the decision to send staff home due to contact tracing in connection with a COVID-19 case.
But Sabia still needed to ensure the Soldiers who rely on the facility for their “three squares” a day had a way to eat.
Sabia arranged for prepackaged Meals, Ready to Eat to be distributed to patrons who came to the dining facility for that day’s lunch and dinner service. He then coordinated with 35th CSSB Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Denson to have his unit’s field feeding platoon assemble there.
Not content with solely handing out MREs to customers for the next two weeks, the team decided they wanted to prepare hot meals akin to what the facility normally served. They took an assessment of the dining facility’s kitchen, appliances and pantry, and “started discussing a game plan” for the next morning’s breakfast, Denson said.
With only 12 hours of preparation time and no additional assistance from LRC-Honshu, the field feeding platoon was indeed able to coordinate and serve a hot, takeout-only breakfast the next morning. The team has continued to do so for three meals a day, seven days a week.
“The purpose of us being here is to feed Soldiers,” Pascual said. “We are excited that we are able to actually show our craft and the things we can do.”
Pascual said she and her team follow the same recipes the dining facility normally uses and adhere to all other existing standards. In addition to serving takeout customers, the field feeding platoon also prepares meals that are delivered to any Soldiers currently confined to their barracks rooms for COVID-19-related restriction of movement, or ROM.
Seeing the field feeding platoon, which is mostly made up of younger Soldiers who have only been in the Army a few years, being able to take over operation of the dining facility “with zero notice” was amazing, Sabia said. If not for their efforts, the task of feeding so many Soldiers every day would have been far more difficult, he said.
“That is a testament to the type of Soldiers we have,” Sabia said.
Field feeding platoons typically provide food service to Soldiers on deployment, during field training exercises, and in certain garrison environments, usually working from smaller, mobile kitchens. Pascual admitted it was initially somewhat challenging to get everyone “into the swing” of operating a full-size kitchen, but she praised her team for being able to quickly settle into their assigned roles.
“All of us are trained in this,” Pascual said. “Food service—that is our bread and butter.”
Sgt. 1st Class Janette Sauvou, a culinary management NCO, has been working with the current field feeding platoon team for about a year and said she had no difficulty selecting the right personnel for each job in the kitchen.
“I knew the operation was going to run smoothly,” Sauvou said. “It [already] seems like we have been working here for a while.”
Staff Sgt. Ricardo Morales, assigned to the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, was at the dining facility Jan. 26 to pick up lunch, four days after the field feeding platoon took over operation of the kitchen. Morales said he had seen no dip in the quality of the meals.
“I realized that the staff had switched over,” Morales said, “but the food still tastes the same and is still really good. It’s like nothing has changed.”