PETERSBURG, VA, UNITED STATES
Story by Sgt. Therese Prats
Fort Lee, Va. – The late Silas Watkins was a Montford Point Marine, one of the first African Americans to ever serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his time in the military, Watkins was a food service specialist and fought in the Vietnam War. He cooked not just for practicality, but to show his love and care for others by feeding them. He continued his legacy of bettering the nation and the culinary trade through his grandson, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jarrod T. Whitlock.
Whitlock was the youngest of eight siblings when he followed his grandfather’s footsteps. “I wanted to go into aviation when I joined the military, but the job wasn’t available,” Whitlock said. “It only made sense for me to take after my grandfather and become a food service specialist.”
Cooking was not new to Whitlock when he became a Marine. Before his enlistment, Whitlock was a sous chef at a five-star restaurant in Atlanta at only 18 years old. He credits his grandfather for his fast start in the industry.
“My grandfather taught me how to cook when I was a kid,” he said.
Cooking isn’t the only thing Whitlock inherited from his grandfather. “He was my mentor,” Whitlock said.
Watkins always gave back to his community as a religious leader and volunteer at soup kitchens. Whitlock mirrors his grandfather by serving as a minister and volunteer.
He also emulates his grandfather by continuously striving to improve his culinary skills. With that goal in mind, he hopes to earn top marks at the 47th annual Joint Culinary Training Event (JCTE) in Fort Lee, Virginia, from March 3-10.
“I’m here at the JCTE to learn from other cooks and to pass that knowledge on to other Marines,” Whitlock said.
The JCTE aims to improve military readiness by promoting culinary excellence, as more than 200 military chefs from around the globe showcase their talent. The contenders aren’t limited to the U.S. Armed Forces; international military teams also compete to win.
“I picked Whitlock as part of my team to compete at the JCTE because he’s very skilled. I want him to be the best of the best, and he has so much potential,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Michael Watts, the team manager for the Marine competitors. Watts and Whitlock are stationed together in Norfolk, Virginia, where Watts serves as a Marine Enlisted Aide (MEA) to the commanding general of the United States Marine Corps Forces Command.
For the commanding general to focus on mission accomplishment, the duty of the MEA is to relieve the officer of minor tasks and details, but the responsibility of doing so requires strong interpersonal and management skills.
To be considered for the MEA position, the Marine must hold food service specialty as their primary job. Whitlock’s grandfather was an MEA, distinguished ahead of his peers.
“I have aspirations to become an MEA eventually,” Whitlock said. Becoming an MEA would mean that he’s been hand-selected as a close, trusted adjutant to an officer, who exhibits exceptional professionalism and maturity.
“My grandfather was very firm and stern in the way he carried himself, but he had a heart of gold when you spoke with him,” Whitlock said.
Whitlock is similar. “What I really like about working with Staff Sgt. Whitlock is that he doesn’t let rank get in the way. He helps with everything and has a calm way of doing it,” said Lance Cpl. Fatima Ibarra, a competitor on the Marine team.
Watkins and Whitlocks’ hearts of gold shine through the food they make for those around them. “My grandfather and I both love cooking. I want to bring back better cooking skills from the JCTE and make even better food for my Marines,” Whitlock said.
“The JCTE is meant to heighten all the competitors’ culinary achievements and to empower these service members to go back to the fleet and feed their people,” said U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sean Bartlett, a staff member at the JCTE and instructor at the Fort Lee joint culinary school. “Everyone deserves to have good food.”
Watkins, like so many other Montford Point Marines, won’t be forgotten as they changed American history by making it impossible for the nation to go back to segregated units. His legacy continues through his grandson.
Whitlock said, “I’m continuing my grandfather’s legacy by getting better at what I do by serving and feeding other Marines.”