Dedicated NCO boosts morale through food
February 20, 2010
- Dedicated NCO boosts the morale of his unit through the use of food.
BAGHDAD - When it comes to preparing food for Soldiers, Sgt. John Barnes heeds Napoleon's advice.
"Napoleon said, 'An army marches on its stomach,' and he's right," said Barnes, noncommissioned officer in charge of the dining facility at Al Rasheed, Iraq, the place of duty for Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "[Food] is one of the biggest morale boosters for a Soldier. Without food, there's nothing."
Barnes, of Los Angeles, was selected to be the featured Commando of the month because of his hard work at producing three meals a day for 45 Soldiers based at Al Rasheed, as well as 45 local nationals living there.
His job involves ordering needed supplies, planning meals, and supervising his Soldiers as they complete daily tasks; a demanding job that begins well before the start of breakfast at 7 a.m., and well after dinner ends.
Barnes' first few weeks at Al Rasheed were spent making his small dining facility clean and fully functional. When 2-15 Soldiers first got there, conditions in the facility were abysmal.
"It was unorganized. There was food everywhere - food that was bad," Barnes said. "There were rats. It wasn't a popular place until we got it cleaned up and organized."
Barnes and his Soldiers wasted no time getting the facility in order.
"As soon as Sgt. Barnes got here, he did what an NCO should do," said Lt. Col. Joseph Wyszynski, of Philadelphia, Pa., and executive officer for the 9th Division MITT Team. "He took stock of the inventory, got rid of the old, [and] got new chow in here. His is a story about how one man can make a difference in the quality of life for the whole base."
Barnes' next challenge was providing a good variety of food for the Soldiers, even with limited supplies. He said he tries to make meals Soldiers will look forward to, like yakisoba, a big favorite at Al Rasheed. Yakisoba is a dish made of noodles, beef, green peppers and onions, mixed up with soy sauce.
"It's a lot more than boiling food in a bag," he said. "You gotta make it taste good. If you put out a bad meal, Soldiers are going to tell you about it. It's about the input you get from the Soldiers, what you can do to improve the food itself. I'll let them know if I can accommodate that or not."
It helps that for Barnes, cooking isn't just a job.
"It's something I have a passion for," he said. "When I cook, it's a stress relief."
Barnes began his military career in the U.S. Marines, where he served in the infantry for five years before becoming a cook. After he left the Marines, he joined the Army to be a military cook once again following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Barnes said he tries to pass on the lessons he has learned to the Soldiers working under him.
Specialist Danny Flores, from Dallas, works with Barnes in the dining facility, helping to ensure good meals get to Soldiers and that they order enough food to support all the Soldiers at Al Rasheed.
"[Sgt. Barnes] taught me a lot since I came to Fort Drum, more than any of my Advanced Individual Training instructors did," Flores said. "[We] come up with new ideas for food, what we can give the Soldiers, so they don't eat the same things every day."
Private Christian Gonzales also works in the facility. A late deployer, Gonzales came to Iraq almost straight out of AIT. On top of being new at his job, Gonzales is from Puerto Rico and is still trying to learn English.
"It wasn't easy for me to adjust to this deployment," he said. "With Sgt. Barnes, it has been easier. I think he's a great NCO. He made it easy for me, and I like to cook - I'm learning."
Wyszynski spoke highly of the contributions Barnes has made - not just to the dining facility but also to the overall efforts of the Soldiers stationed at Al Rasheed.
"He's a team player," Wyszynski said. "If there's work around here that needs to get done, he's the first to pitch in. He's an invaluable asset to everyone here and enables everyone to do their job."