Vanguard Brigade cook raises morale at Camp Fallujah
February 17, 2011
CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq-Succulent shrimp scampi, creamy chicken alfredo, spicy red rice with chicken cutlets-sounds like the menu at a five-star restaurant, right' Not at Camp Fallujah, Iraq. This is your standard Monday evening meal at the dining facility here.
At an isolated forward operating base like Camp Fallujah, one of the biggest challenges facing a commander is maintaining the mental and physical well-being of each Soldier. This task becomes a lot easier when the battalion has employed arguably one of the best U.S. Army cooks in Iraq-Sgt. Paul Harris.
"In my 20 years of service, I've never come across a better Army cook," said Lt. Col. Eric Larsen, stability transition team leader with 4th "Vanguard" Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Division - Center. "He's the best."
Sergeant Harris, head cook with Company E, 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th AAB, 3rd Inf. Div., said he takes his job very seriously. To him, it's not just cooking the next meal-it's a contributing factor in the Soldier's morale and the esprit de corps on the base.
"The morale is pretty high around here right now," Sgt. Harris said-an important development with the resident units recovering from the loss of two Soldiers just a few months ago.
This loss struck the heart and soul of the company, and canceling that Friday's barbeque became a major consideration. However, Harris had another idea that would deliver a much needed morale boost to the soldiers-T-bone steaks.
"Before then, we had just been eating regular food," he said. "I knew the Soldiers really looked forward to the Friday evening barbeques."
Sergeant Harris recognized that the Soldiers needed to be together, not alone. He asked the commander to have T-bone steaks delivered to the camp. The commander complied and it was a somber and emotional meal for everyone present.
Sergeant Harris said no one talked much during dinner. It wasn't until that following Friday that the Soldiers began to open up and express their personal feelings. The loss of a fellow comrade is always difficult, but at Camp Fallujah, thanks to the weekly barbeques and the resulting openness of communication, the Soldiers are moving past the tragedy.
"Morale took a big hit in September, but we were able to push past it," said 1st Lt. Andrew Boza, STT communications adviser with 4th AAB, 3rd ID "Soldiers are humans and humans need to socialize ... and there is a good amount of socializing that goes on at (Harris') barbeques."
Sergeant Harris, whose specialty is grilled lobster tail, has been grilling since he was 9 years old. He credits much of his culinary talent to his mother, a trained five-star chef.
Sergeant Harris has also expanded the barbeques to Wednesday night and introduced "soul food Sunday" at Camp Fallujah. He's constantly improving the dining conditions on the camp by expanding the menu, maintaining a clean kitchen and ensuring the dining area is up to standard-along with the Vanguard morale.