HOHENFELS, Germany -- After 40 years of serving his country as a cook and culinarian, James Schmidlin received the Commander's Award for Civilian Service at a small ceremony at the Warrior Sport's Cafe dining facility, March 28.
As the oldest of three children, Schmidlin got his start in the kitchen by cooking for his siblings. His mother would leave him notes on when to put the roast in and at what temperature, or directions for making mashed potatoes.
In 1972, he joined the Army and served as a cook for the next 12 years. He met his wife of 31 years, Elisabeth, while stationed at Ferris Barracks in Erlangen, Germany.
"I've gotten a lot of support from my wife," Schmidlin said. "This job here, it's a seven-day operation, 365 days a year; weekends, holidays, we're here three meals a day. Now it's time to slow down a little and support her."
Though he left the Army in 1984, Schmidlin has worked 40 years continuously for the federal government. Retiring this month, he plans to settle near Nuremberg to spend time with his family and indulge his passion for bike riding.
Schmidlin received numerous accolades over the years for his cooking skills as well as for setup and décor displays during multiple events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. His skill with the grill led other staff members to request that he setup a training program to pass on his techniques for decorative display in both edible and nonedible settings.
Schmidlin said he was most proud of being part of winning the Connelly Award, the Army's prestigious award for food service excellence.
"That's worldwide, so I'm really proud of that," said Schmidlin.
Schmidlin said it was not the accolades that kept him going for 40 years, though, it was his customers.
"We treat everyone the same, whether they're a civilian, family member, E-1 or a general. But we're here for the Soldiers," he said.
That's the reason Thanksgiving remains one of his favorite times at the dining facility, despite the grueling schedule required to pull off a feast for several hundred.
"We start prepping weeks in advance," Schmidlin said. "People appreciate us all year round, but on Thanksgiving they come with their best clothes on, they bring their families, and they really appreciate us. We really throw down and do a good job. It's a lot of work but people really enjoy it."
Working hard is something Schmidlin enjoys. He recalled a period during a large rotation here in 2000 when the Base Support Battalion dining facility had to serve just over 1,000 customers three meals a day for almost four weeks.
"I remember we had 701 COBs (Civilians on the Battlefield) and about 250 of our own people," said Schmidlin. "We were coming in at 12:30 a.m. just to get breakfast out. I had to sleep in my car a couple times. We had maybe six or seven cooks, but we pulled it off and got it done. We were very proud of ourselves."
Though he plans to take a few months off after he retires, Schmidlin says he hopes in the future to work part-time serving the Soldiers again.
"I believe my expertise and knowledge could still help in the future," he said. Plus, he simply really enjoys cooking.
"Even on a normal day, to us, the meal is special," he said.