More than a meal: Deployed cooks serve with heart
August 21, 2012
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Sgt. Jeffery Matthews asks himself a lot of questions. Is the bacon crispy enough? Are the eggs too runny?
These may be standard for any conscientious Army cook, but for Matthews there is more to it. It's about the Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, who go through his chow lines every day at Forward Operating Base Tillman.
"I just treat it like it's their last meal, which is kind of sad to say, but I could be giving them the last thing they get to eat," Matthews said.
He thinks about whether the bacon is crispy enough and if the eggs are too runny because he and his team have to make it good for the Soldiers who risk their lives outside the wire every day.
The "Black Lions" have lost three of their own since their May arrival in Afghanistan. Those three men passed through the FOB Tillman chow line at some point and that realization taught Matthews and his Soldiers, Spc. James Bullock of Fayetteville, N.C., and Pfc. Ryan Sims of Sheridan, Ark., their jobs are a vital part of life on FOB Tillman.
This was a lesson they learned July 3 when Spc. Cody O. Moosman died in Gayan Alwara Mandi, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.
"I put my heart and soul into every meal," Matthews said. "Spc. Moosman was a good guy who would come through the line, and all of a sudden I didn't see him again. I fed him his last meal and ever since that happened, I made sure all my guys stepped (it) up in the kitchen."
Matthews and his crew serve more than 2,800 meals per week on FOB Tillman where options when it comes to food are limited.
"Out here they can't go to Burger King, they can't go to the shoppette," Matthews said. "We're all they have."
After more than 20 years of cooking including six years in Army dining facilities, Matthews has developed a "unique style" that allows him improvise during a deployment when resources are scarce.
"A recipe might call for three ingredients, but you only have two," he said. "It makes you get creative, and you find out what tastes good, and then you end up turning out a good meal."
Matthews' Soldiers understand the importance of what they do, too. They know that, though the hours may be long, they are feeding the men who are keeping them safe.
"It's the least I can do," Bullock said. "The guys tell me that when they're out on patrol they're asking around, 'hey, you know what's for chow?' To the other guys and I, that right there makes it all worthwhile."