Devil Dogs ready to deliver as defending culinary champs

Photo By Terrance Bell | Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Romero carefully slices tomatoes as Lance Cpl. Daysia Tallman takes note during a Marine Corps culinary team practice session Feb. 27. The Devil Dog team is prepping to defend its installation of the year title during the 45th annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise set for March 7-12 at Fort Lee. The Marine Corps team won the 2019 title for the first time in its history.

FORT LEE, Va. (March 2, 2020) — A highlight from last year’s Joint Culinary Training Exercise was the Lee Theater award-ceremony moment when several Marines sprang from their seats with raised fists, cheering and shouting “oorah,” after they were named winners of the Installation of the Year category.

Gunnery Sgt. Daniel P. Greer said the moment was meaningfully “freeze-worthy” for him because it was the first time Devil Dogs had captured the event’s crowning achievement perennially held by Army teams.

“I felt great,” said the reflective 16-year culinarian who was a member of that 2019 team. “It was a big accomplishment. It sort of came as a surprise, but at the same time, I think we had the right personnel in the right places. It was definitely a great experience to win.”

Greer is one of three Devil Dogs competing again for installation honors and other top titles during JCTE’s 45th iteration scheduled for March 7-12 at MacLaughlin Fitness Center. He said being competitive is always a daunting prospect due to the circumstances surrounding the Corps’ participation in the event.

“The Marine Corps, we work a lot with less,” said Greer, this year’s team manager. “Coming into it, we have the most junior team we’ve ever had, and probably (the most junior team) out of any in the competition. … Also, we don’t train throughout the year (like some teams), and we only get a couple of months to train beforehand while most of us are still performing our day-to-day jobs.”

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Watts was another member of last year’s team. He said the win had the dual impact of strengthening the Corps’ food service program and demonstrating the dedication Marines have toward being the best at everything they do.

“It showed we can do whatever is required no matter what,” he said. “(The win) was an eye-opener for a lot of Marines, especially for the students as an advertisement to spark their interest in putting forth the effort to do the best they can.”

Five food service veterans and an equal number of junior Marines comprise this year’s team. Some are fresh out of training at Fort Lee. The least-experienced members will represent the Corps in the student chef category among others.

Greer noted last year’s team was cognizant of its shallow experience level in crafting a competitive strategic approach to JCTE. That being the case, they focused on what Greer dubbed as “brilliance in the basics.”

“We didn’t really want to go overboard or do something fancy that was probably beyond our skill level,” he said in reference to recipe and other choices. “So, we dialed it down but perfected our basic techniques and kept it simple. I think that was the biggest thing responsible for winning the competition last year.”

What worked last time, however, is not necessarily appropriate for 2020. Greer said the outlook is different and so is the approach.

“We have a lot to live up to,” he said. “We’re still going along with that theme ‘brilliance in the basics,’ but we’re kicking it up a notch. We’re taking a few more risks this year because that’s what’s going to be expected of us.”

Lance Cpl. Michael Romero, one of Greer’s charges, has been a Marine less than a year. The 21-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native said it is difficult to fathom an event with 200 participants and so much culinary expertise, but nonetheless, he is eager to compete.

“I feel like it’s an opportunity – at least right now – to put my foot in the door and have people see where I stand and where my team stands. Also, I want them to see my aspiration and drive because I really want to expand my knowledge into this and go further into this career field.”

Pfc. Adriana VazquezJobert, Romero’s 20-year-old teammate who also has less than one year of service, was selected for the team while she was in school here. She said the training preparations have taught her a lot of advanced skills accompanied by the residual effect of teaching her a lot more about herself.

“I get frustrated because I want everything to be perfect, but this is not individual work,” said the Dorado, Puerto Rico, native. “It is teamwork, and I’ve had to learn that. So I’ve learned patience and how to communicate better.”

Greer said bringing in new Marines like Romero and VazquezJobert is developmental because training the next generation of leathernecks supports individual skill development as well as the Marine Corps’ food service program as a whole.

“There’s an absolute value in training for and competing in the competition,” said Greer. “Seeing other teams and being in the spotlight makes you more comfortable with adversity. It opens your mind to different things that you could do. It also has training value in that we can take it all back and use it in the fleet and teach other Marines.”

The 45th JCTE gets underway March 6 with the Armed Forces Chef of the Year category, one of its marquee events. From March 7-12, the training exercise will be showcased at MacLaughlin Fitness Center, with activities open to the public starting at 9 a.m. Visitors will be treated to live cooking shows, celebrity appearances, decorative food displays and dinning-in opportunities. In all, roughly 200 culinarians from each branch of the military and three foreign countries are expected to participate.

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