HAWTHORNE ARMY DEPOT, Nevada (July 20, 2012) -- If you think cooking nutritious meals for your family can be challenging, try cooking for 300 hungry Soldiers.

That's exactly what Staff Sgt. Andrew Johnston does every day at Hawthorne Army Depot, one of the sites for Operation Golden Cargo.

For 21 years, Operation Golden Cargo has served as a national, functional exercise that links Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers with real-world ammunition logistics operations and training opportunities, while providing support to the Army's Joint Munitions Command with ammunition requirements.

For two weeks in the summer, Soldiers complete annual training requirements by successfully moving full loads of live ammunition over long distances. Troops perform job duties that give them a sense of a mission accomplished and the training they receive is rarely found outside of theater.

"It's important to keep Soldiers healthy and happy," said Johnston. "A hot meal can make a big difference."

During Golden Cargo, Johnston, of the 329th CSSB, U.S. Army Reserves, starts work at 4 a.m., to serve a hot breakfast to troops at Hawthorne Army Depot.

All the hot food is pre-packaged and pre-cooked in Unit Group Rations. The food is heated on a Modern Burner Unit which is diesel-powered and safe and efficient, said Johnston. Food can be kept hot for several hours in insulated food containers.

"The Army has done quite a good job on the variety and quality of food it can offer soldiers," said Johnston.

A sample of the three breakfast menus includes ham and eggs, and a hot apple dish, along with cold cereal, fruit and milk. Some of the fourteen dinner choices include shrimp scampi, chicken alfredo, fried chicken, steak, and a Chinese dinner. Side dishes may include rice or green beans. And, there is always a dessert. Lunches consist of Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs.

No one goes hungry. If a convoy heads out at five a.m., Johnston makes a sack meal for each Soldier to eat on the road.

Six cooks make breakfast and dinner. For each meal, several additional Soldiers are tasked for KP duty and they help out with fresh food preparation, dining hall set up, and clean up.

The cooks get a short break mid-day, then dinner preparation starts about two and a half hours before the meal is served.

"There are some challenges of cooking meals in a Mobile Kitchen Trailer," said Johnston. "The food has to be cooked to a specified temperature, and we have to serve quality food in a clean and safe manner, on time."

After a meal, all of the cooking and serving utensils get washed, rinsed, and sanitized in a series of three huge sinks at increasing temperatures. While this might not sound like one of the most desirable of jobs in the 100-plus temperatures of the high desert in the middle of summer, Johnston and his staff approach their tasks with enthusiasm.

As a matter of fact, Johnston just moved into food service from another military occupational specialty a few months ago.

"This job appealed to me because it keeps me busy on Reserve training weekends. There's not much down time to be bored," he said.

As a civilian, Johnston is a full-time firefighter in Parsons, Kan. He cooks a bit on the job there too.

He's just the kind of guy the 300 other Soldiers of Operation Golden Cargo at Hawthorne Army Depot want, to keep them full and ready to get their jobs done successfully.

Page last updated Fri July 20th, 2012 at 00:00