Operation Iraqi Freedom became Operation Iraqi Feed'em for the 500 Soldiers of the 769th Engineer Battalion at a Fort McCoy dining facility. The 769th, a Louisiana Army National Guard unit from Baton Rouge, La., returned to Fort McCoy from a tour in Iraq for demobilization processing. Also coming to the Wisconsin Army installation were three World Jambalaya Festival champions to cook a favorite meal for their returning Soldiers. Command Sgt. Maj. Chad Lynch said the trio came to Wisconsin to cook for engineer units that had deployed with the 769th from home stations outside of Louisiana -- the 851st from Minnesota, 821st from West Virginia, and 230th and 231st from Mississippi. "The jambalaya trio said they wanted to cook for all four states," Lynch said, "so they took off work and from their families and came to Fort McCoy." The team, all from Gonzales, La., is Jody Elisar, Scott Duplechein and Jeff Parent. Elisar is the 2008 World Jambalaya Festival champion cook, while Parent is the 2007 champion cook. Duplechein was Parent's helper. The festival is held Memorial Day weekend in Gonzales. This year was the 41st annual event. "We wanted to welcome our troops back home from a great cause," Parent said. Duplechein, said, "This is the best way we can say thanks to the troops." "We came because Chad (Command Sgt. Maj. Lynch) invited us," Duplechein said. "It is an honor to come and cook for the Soldiers. This is what we love to do -- cook meals, feed people and make them happy. It's our way of thanking our troops, to thank them for serving our country, so we serve them a great meal." As for the special meal, the trio brought a 90-gallon cast iron pot, originally from a sugar cane farm, along with 140 pounds of pork, 60 pounds of sausage, 60 pounds of onions, 120 pounds of rice and 30 gallons of beans. It can't be done as well in a stock pot, it works better in a cast iron pot, the cooks said. The thickness of the cast iron seems to make a difference. For the Fort McCoy dinner they used propane gas to heat the pot. For competitions they prefer to cook over a wood fire. They prepared the pot and its jambalaya contents on the concrete porch outside of the dining hall. Then, when ready for serving, rolled it up to the serving counter as the trio and Lynch dished out the dinner to the Soldiers. White Navy beans were brought from Louisiana and simply cooked in a regular pot on the dining facility stove and served as a side dish. "It's a common combination, jambalaya and beans," Parent said. Spc. Michael Hole, of the 231st Engineer Team, with his home in Gulfport, Miss., said, "The jambalaya meal was just like being back home, especially after Army chow for a year. The jambalaya had great flavor, some of the best I have ever had. It had a good home feel to it." Sgt. 1st Class Hugh Kelly, also of the 231st, and from Biloxi, Miss., said, "Coming from south Mississippi, we are accustomed to Cajun cooking. So this was a touch of our home and was in the middle of Wisconsin. It was a good surprise. It felt like mother's cooking. It was world-class jambalaya." Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Walley, of the 230th, and from Laurel, Miss., said about the special meal, "It signified the end to a good deployment. Good in that all of my Soldiers came home safe and sound. The meal was one of the last times everybody from our overall unit will be together before we all head back to our different home stations. It is one last HOOAH! With an exclamation point." Walley also said, "Not many people can say they ate jambalaya from the world-championship cooks. It was great they raised the money for the trip to Wisconsin and shipped their supplies to Fort McCoy and came up here to prepare it." Fort McCoy Garrison Command Sergeant Major Command Sgt. Maj. M. Kevin Dubois said, "It was an honor to help coordinate the effort between Command Sergeant Major Lynch and the world champion chefs and make it a memorable event for the redeploying Soldiers." "It shows Fort McCoy is willing to go the extra mile to welcome home Soldiers coming back from Iraq," Dubois said. "It was a joint effort between the Fort McCoy team and the returning Soldiers and the visiting chefs to secure the mess hall and getting the pallets of supplies shipped from Louisiana, making the event a success." The cooks noted the food ingredients and the trip to Wisconsin were donated by the people, businesses and communities in Louisiana. It took three pallets on a truck for the pot and supplies to be shipped to Fort McCoy ahead of time. Elisar said, "We simply enjoy doing it. It's a lot of self-satisfaction and people enjoy the food. When you cook for a family of five, an event of 5,000 or for the 500 Soldiers (from the 769th) at Fort McCoy that just makes you want to cook again. There is also the competition edge and then the camaraderie." (Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)