By Spc. Justin Snyder, 354th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentAugust 6, 2013
FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. -- Standing in a line of soldiers under the hot July, Arkansas sun, Spc. Dave Grady, with the 402nd Engineer Company (Sapper), only had one thing on his mind ... food.
"Man, I've been waiting all day for this," said Grady, a native of Ottumwa, Iowa. "It's been quite the day and a good hot meal can make or break me right now."
Grady along with the approximately 1,000 soldiers here in support of Operation River Assault 2013 line up twice a day for a hot meal provided to them by the cooks from the 854th Engineer Battalion (Forward Support).
"The more soldiers the merrier," said Staff Sgt. Michael Baker, 854th Engineer Battalion (FS) noncommissioned officer in charge. "We'll keep running them in here and do our very best to ensure they all leave satisfied and happy"
To the naked eye, food service may seem like a pretty basic job to prepare for, but for the cooks this is something they have been meticulously planning for months.
From taking inventory on items needed to fulfill their mission to planning out meals and schedules, these cooks have accommodated for everything down to the last salt and pepper packet.
"We take our jobs as cooks very seriously," said Baker, a native of Wynantskill, N.Y. "This is basically our biggest training opportunity of the year, so we make sure we have everything planned to make certain it's a complete success."
Breakfast services are held daily from 6 - 8 a.m. and dinner services are held from 5 - 7 p.m. Lunch is served in the form of a Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE).
One of the things that the cooks are most pleased with is their ability to provide a good, healthy meal to the soldiers
"I know personally what's going into every single meal that comes out of our dining facility," said Baker, whose staff consists of 37 cooks and numerous soldiers pulling kitchen patrol duty, split up amongst daytime and nighttime shifts. "Everything is prepared fresh daily to provide nutritional value, that way the soldiers can carry out their missions to the fullest. I sleep well at night knowing we are providing an important service to them."
For Spc. Gregory Fulton, a cook with the 368th Engineer Battalion (Forward Support) who is providing assistance to the 854th Engineer Battalion (FS) during this exercise, he has personal reasons for being a cook.
Fulton originally served as a combat engineer before re-classing as a chef to be able to deploy overseas. He especially wanted the opportunity to serve his fellow soldiers.
"I've been on the other side of things; working out in the field all day hungry and tired," said Fulton, a native of Boston. "The last thing a soldier wants to do after a long day of training is go to bed on an empty stomach and for those reasons I can't let them down."
When soldiers began arriving in droves July 14, and cooking services were officially provided, lines ran long outside and seats in the dining facility were hard to come by.
However, thanks to the suggestions of the soldiers on the ground and the ability to gel as a staff, the dining experience has become a well-oiled machine in only a matter of days.
"We got off to a bit of a rough start when we first hit the ground running," said Baker. "We listened to the soldiers requests and complaints and did everything we could to follow up with their needs. I think now we've created an experience that both them and us can be proud of."
And they don't plan on stopping with the improvements until the last soldier returns home to their families.
"Failure is not an option when it comes to being there for my fellow soldiers," said Fulton. "We'll keep at it until every last soldiers is happy. If they leave Fort Chaffee with food in their belly and a smile on their face, I'll be pleased."