The days are long for the U.S. Army culinary specialists who are deployed to Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp HigaChitose in support of Orient Shield 23.
The 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion eight-man Field Feeding Platoon wakes up hours before the sun rises every day to prepare breakfast and hours after the sun goes down to clean up and reset from the evening meal.
“Our mission is to provide support to the exercise personnel here at Camp HigaChitose,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ger Lo. “I broke our seven personnel into two teams. The morning team are my three most experienced culinary specialists and four more make my late team,” Lo explained.
The platoon cooks two meals each day, breakfast and dinner, and also provides MREs and other grab-and-go items for lunch for the U.S. and Japanese personnel assigned to Camp HigaChitose. The platoon also flexes their capabilities to handle surges as Soldiers transition into the area of operations and use the camp as a jumping-off point to the more remote exercise sites.
“This is a hub for everyone coming in before they go to other sites. As more people arrive to work the exercise our workload increases. It has steadily increased since we set up our MKT (military kitchen trailer).
The crews use a combination of facilities to ensure everyone is fed. Multiple MKTs were deployed to Japan and dispersed hundreds of miles apart throughout Hokkaido. At Chitose, the FFP uses one MKT, but also has been granted use of the base’s dining facility.
“Having the dining facility is nice. The MKT has multiple functions. We still need the MKT for stovetop cooking and other capabilities, but we can use the DFAC ovens and also it gives us a nice dining area,” Lo explained.
According to Lo, although the FFP is running like a well-oiled machine, there are many areas for professional development, training and improvement.
“Having the DFAC is great because this is valuable DFAC experience for hands-on training,” Lo said. “I have been doing a lot of on-the-job training like specific cutting techniques and how to set up a DFAC correctly,” he explained.
For four of the culinary specialists in Lo’s team, this isn’t their first time receiving his training.
“For half of my team, I was their instructor at AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Gregg-Adams. This assignment with the 35th CSSB isn’t our first time in a kitchen environment together,” he said. “So far these guys are doing great. We had some learning challenges in the beginning due to using a facility that wasn’t our
The training doesn’t stop with Lo’s troops, he also identified room for growth.
“This mission puts me in learning mode too. This is my first time as the NCOIC. It is also my first time dealing with inspectors and making sure the paperwork is right as the primary. As the NCOIC, I had to also develop a plan to make sure my Soldiers still have time for physical fitness and rack time. I haven’t been perfect, but I am learning from my mistakes and growing from them.”
Lo’s method for success in time management for his team is to have the two teams leapfrog each other and prep ingredients and cooking equipment for the next shift before they leave.
“The evening shift will clean up and prep for the morning shift so all they have to do is come into an environment ready to work. The early shift does the same for the evening shift,” Lo explained. “Knowing that each team is taking care of the other one builds teamwork and cohesion for the platoon,” he said. “I have been trying to keep everyone motivated. It is like a 20-day marathon we are racing together.”
As proof of Lo’s leadership and his team’s dedication, evidence was clear as Soldiers threw away their trays as they exited to go back to work with barely a morsel of food left to find.
On the technical side, the team received a high rating from inspectors with the Public Health Activity, Japan.
“The team had a few deficiencies to overcome when they arrived and set up in the DFAC. They were very receptive to the corrections and criticism and fixed all the issues quickly before the first meal. This team is very professional,” said Spc. Jacil Snowden, a U.S. Army veterinary food and health inspections specialist assigned to PHA, Japan.