By Sgt. Brandon A. Bednarek, 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry DivisionMarch 26, 2015
CAMP CASEY, South Korea -- Few things are more essential to a Soldier's morale than the availability of a warm meal. Whether deployed overseas, training in a field environment or working in a garrison setting, dining facilities provide Army formations with the sustenance for success.
Reputations of individual dining facilities, however, are weighted heavily by the quality of troops who man them. At Thunder Inn, the resident dining location for the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the facility not only serves up some of the finest meals in Korea, it also produces some of the top Soldiers and leaders in the food service field.
Situated at Camp Casey in the northwest part of South Korea, Thunder Inn is delivering its promise of high-quality, performance-oriented food options. In fact, it was recognized last October as the division's top dining facility, an accomplishment it owes to those serving behind the scenes.
Every morning, Pfc. Tavarious Burnett arrives at Thunder Inn and begins his routine of monitoring refrigerator temperatures and allocating the day's ingredients. His purpose at Thunder Inn is rationing, a vital position that ensures the facility maintains detailed accountability of all its food products.
Burnett is what veteran leaders refer to as "green" -- a young Soldier fresh from basic and advanced training. Korea is his first duty station and he is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 70th Brigade Support Battalion, 210th FA Bde., 2nd ID like all food service personnel at Thunder Inn.
Although new to the Army, Burnett is quickly setting the example for his peers and demonstrating the ability to excel under pressure, despite initially having low expectations of himself.
"When I first got here, I didn't really feel like I cared," said Burnett, a native of Marietta, Georgia. "But my sergeants stayed with me and saw potential in me."
Committed to the success of their Soldiers, the dining facility's noncommissioned officers worked closely with Burnett; slowly building his confidence and grooming him for the gauntlet ahead -- Chef of the Quarter.
"Chef of the Quarter allows competition between units to find out who the best chef is and what unit they come from," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary R. Glathar, the brigade's command food service advisor. "It drives each of them to continue to improve their Soldier skills and food service skills."
The investment by Thunder Inn NCOs paid dividends as Burnett breezed through the division board on his way to the Eighth Army competition in February. Equipped with his culinary skills and a family recipe, Burnett dominated competitors in the cooking event with his rotisserie chicken, garlic potatoes, calamari and glazed carrots.
Unfortunately, though, Burnett was unable to earn enough points in the board evaluation to close the spread between himself and the first place victor - rounding out instead as the competition's runner-up.
"A lot of people have faith in me," said Burnett. "Knowing people have faith in me gives me courage. That makes me want to do more boards and eventually win them all."
Through his successes as a competitor, Burnett admits he now sees in himself what his leaders saw all along -- a testament to the dedicated leadership found at Thunder Inn.
"I think the Thunder Inn, and all the Soldiers and NCOs who work here, are some of the best the Army has to offer." said Sgt. Schuyler K. Winters, identified by his superiors as one of those dedicated leaders. "They definitely have something special going on here."
"Every day, NCOs need to improve and Sergeant Winters is one of those NCO who continues to improve," said Glathar.
Unlike Burnett, Winters is an experienced sergeant with more than just a knack for food service knowledge; he is also an Iraq combat vet who deployed shortly after the initial invasion in 2004 and again during the troop surge in 2007.
"It made me really nervous at first because that was not what I signed up for," said Winters, a Jacksonville, Florida native. "I knew I was going to go to war - but your idea of war, and what war really is, are two different things."
Throughout his first Iraq campaign, Winters never worked as a food service specialist. Instead, he participated in dismounted patrols, provided security during convoys and spent his fair share of time in a guard tower -- duties primarily expected of those in combat arms.
"Some of the experiences out there were wild," said Winters. "I saw things that people from my [career field] won't ever see."
"I remember I was on guard tower one day and the lights cut out in the city," he recollected. "It was a foggy night and I remember seeing rockets coming down. It was like God himself throwing fury down on that town."
Notwithstanding a departure from dining facility duties, Winters admits his time in the combat zone provided an opportunity to become a better leader.
"I wouldn't change that for anything," he said. "I feel like some of the things I experienced out there, and some of the people I met really shaped and molded me to be a better NCO now."
Using his deployment background in conjunction with eleven years of kitchen craft, Winters now serves as a mentor and trainer to junior enlisted Soldiers at the Thunder Inn; a job requiring an exceptional amount of attention.
"You've got to make sure, as food service, everyone is completely by the book and to the standard," said Winters, who oversees everything from Soldier hygiene and uniforms to ensuring Soldiers precisely follow their recipes.
"I'm right at that level where I supervise, but also in there leading from the front," he said.
As part of his leadership responsibilities, Winters is expected to sharpen his Soldiers' skills while making corrections as needed. Sometimes those corrections require a stern approach and "tough love" in order to communicate the necessity of following standards.
"You've got to show them where their strengths are and help them tighten up the weaknesses," said Winters. "I've told these Soldiers before, when I'm rough on them, it's because whether they realize it or not, they're my legacy to the Army."
For Winters, the legacy at Thunder Inn draws closer to the end after every shift. In the time he has left, he is committed to helping Soldiers recognize the career-broadening opportunities their assignment to Korea offers.
"In terms of professional growth, this DFAC is number one," he said. "I hope that a lot of these Soldiers, when they think back to their time in Korea, remember that this DFAC was awesome."
"I always like to say the war on hunger never ends," he said. "If Soldiers leave here proficient, we've done our job."