FORT MCCOY, WI, UNITED STATES
Story by Staff Sgt. Kati Volkman
Culinary Specialists with the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, stood up Field Feeding Teams to provide daily hot meals to Red Arrow soldiers during annual training this June at Fort McCoy, Wis.
These five small culinary teams work together to help keep over 1,400 soldiers fed and nourished on a daily basis.There are many challenges to the job, including waking up around midnight to start prepping breakfast and supply shortages that lead to creative thinking to make meals happen.
“People don’t realize that cooks have really long days. You have your meals to prep and then there’s everything else that still needs to get done,” explained Sgt. First Class Dawn Federman with Company H.
Spc. Aidan Zentzis, also with Company H, is a line cook at a supper club on the civilian side, and says that cooking in the military is a unique experience compared to working in a restaurant.
“At a restaurant we are focusing on small portions and meals, and nothing compares to prepping food in the military for 500 soldiers at a time and making sure it is hot and has everything they need. It’s a whole different scale of food preparation,” said Zentzis.
With feeding so many soldiers on a daily basis, it is essential to have meals planned and food ordered to have enough on hand. Because of this, solving food shortages can be a significant issue that culinary specialists need to overcome and Federman says it is part of why having cooks who remain level-headed in stressful situations is so important.
“There are days where the trucks come and we get something substituted or something shorted with our deliveries, and that’s when we have to think on our feet to make sure the soldiers have what they need to keep training,” elaborated Federman.
Spc. Gwendolyn Olson with Company H told us that there are many aspects of being a cook that may go unnoticed or be under-appreciated. One example is that cooks also eat MREs like the rest of the soldiers, and sometimes more often.
“We always eat last to make sure our soldiers are fed, so if we run out we’re the ones who don’t eat the hot food,” said Olson.
Cpl. Katelyn Chase with Company G finds that seeing the joy on soldiers’ faces at meal time keeps her going through the long hours and early mornings.
“When they come through the line you can tell they’re excited for chow and that they get hot food, and seeing that morale boost makes it all worth it,” explained Chase.
Lt. Col. Shannon Hellenbrand, commander of the 132nd BSB, is a major proponent of the culinary specialists.
“The culinary specialists are our most critical job in the BSB. It is important to recognize and highlight their awesome work and all they do to support our soldiers,” praised Hellenbrand.
Through it all, the cooks of the 132nd BSB seem to find joy in the chaos and challenges that come with their job.
“After a couple of days we get in a good rhythm. There are days that are going to be rough but these soldiers are all willing to joke around, smile, and stay motivated, which makes each day so much better,” concluded Federman.