Cooking at USO Fort Hood creates connections

Photo By Janecze Wright | With bellies and hearts full, Soldiers, H-E-B team members and USO personnel posed for a picture after the live cooking demo at the USO Fort Hood Kitchen by H-E-B on Feb. 28, 2023, at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Janecze Wright, Fort Hood Public Affairs)

FORT HOOD, TX, UNITED STATES

03.09.2023

Story by Janecze Wright 

Fort Hood Public Affairs Office 

FORT HOOD, Texas — Soldiers were treated to a different kind of dinner and a show at the Fort Hood United Service Organizations Feb. 28 here.

Representatives from H-E-B provided a live cooking exhibition at the USO Fort Hood Kitchen by H-E-B using some of the supermarket chain’s fresh seafood, seasonal vegetables and sides.

The event was organized through a partnership between H-E-B and the USO to provide active-duty service members and their families nutritious and affordable meals that can be made in no time.

Benjamin Griffin, USO Fort Hood center operations & programs manager, explained that the event helps service members and spouses get an idea of the culture in the surrounding area.

“H-E-B does a wonderful job of adjusting its products to the tastes of their specific communities,” he said. “And this partnership allows us at USO Fort Hood the opportunity to bring that taste of Central Texas through a hot meal.”

Kaci Haagsma, connections manager for H-E-B, provided step-by step instructions for Soldiers and Facebook viewers as she prepared seasoned tilapia, fresh sauteed green beans and wild rice blend.

Haagsma expressed that cooking builds connections and she was proud to be able to provide a taste of home for Soldiers.

“Getting to fill in that gap, even if it’s just for an hour at the end of every month, to make sure that they got a home cooked meal and to teach them how to make some of these things is important,” she said.

Haagsma kept Soldiers engaged by asking about their favorite foods and special meals they miss from home.

1st Lt. Alejandra Rodriguez, 553 Division Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, reminisced about her mother’s homemade tamales and how she was proud to be able to make them for her Soldiers.

“When I cook and bring food to my Soldiers, it’s showing them that they have this connection and it’s through food,” she said.

With the cooking completed, Soldiers gathered for a complimentary tasting. Graciela Velazquez, Fort Hood area community coordinator for H-E-B, greeted each Soldier with a plate of food and a smile. She explained that food is universal and satisfies more than just the appetite.

“Everyone loves food,” she said. “Food is a connection to love and your heart. You can touch someone and connect with them in a way that most people can’t. Here at the USO, they do a great job of being a home away from home and we like to be a part of that.”

Sgt. Neil Mclean, 120th Infantry Brigade, and Sgt. William Wallen, 112th Cavalry Regiment, gave the meal two thumbs up.

“It was a small event, but it had a big impact,” Mclean said. “I think this event can bring people together, fill their bellies and help them learn something new.”

At the end of the tasting, H-E-B gifted Soldiers with bags containing all the ingredients and essentials needed to make the meal at home.

“Just seeing the big smiles on the Soldiers’ faces as they anxiously wait to taste these wonderful dishes makes us feel like we are doing our best to support the USO Mission,” Griffin said. “We are in the hospitality business and making sure we provide long-lasting experiences is what it is all about.”

The tasting events are held the last Tuesday of every month at the USO and are open to everyone. Visit forthood.uso.org for more information.

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