By Spc. Laura Johnson, MND-B PAOFebruary 27, 2009
BAGHDAD- Camp Liberty's East Life Support Area Morale Welfare & Recreation center hosted a barbecue cook-out Feb. 22 at the East Mayor's Cell for Soldiers to blend past experiences and spices, conversation and family recipes, and to mix secret barbecue sauce with everyday operations. But most of all, it was an opportunity for them to relax.
Soldiers, MWR staff and members of East LSA's Mayor Cell got a chance to loosen up and build relationships with fellow Soldiers. The barbecue was a way to show off hidden talents in the cooking arena, enjoy good food, and a chance to converse with those who are usually on the move.
"It's all about the supporting the Soldier," said Lt. Col. Howard Geck, East Camp Liberty's mayor. "It also gives Soldiers a chance to network and to get to know the people they are around, such as MWR staff and us at the Mayor Cell."
Unfortunately, four of the five teams who signed up for the event weeks in advance cancelled due to unexpected missions. Still, the MWR staff and East LSA's mayor cell continued with the cook-off that eventually evolved into a cook-out.
"We're still going to barbecue, instead of it being a contest, we'll turn it into a cook-out for the Soldiers," said Garna Patrick, an East LSA MWR staff member from Houston. "It will give them something to look forward to when they return tonight."
The MWR staff began preparation in the early morning, setting up several grills so they could cook more food at one time for the anticipated crowd. They connected speakers for the music, iced down the drinks and fired up the grills.
"We are trying to make it as close as possible to a Sunday afternoon at home," said Patrick.
The eclectic mixture of music and the smell of mesquite wood burning under the meat on the grills attracted Soldiers who from all over the area. Several Soldiers stopped and inquired if the barbecue was open to all.
"I'm glad they stopped, it gives us a bigger turn-out," said Tanla Roundtree, coordinator for East LSA MWR, who is also from Houston. "Sometimes the easiest way to get information out is through word of mouth."
Throughout the day more Soldiers attended the barbecue and, while waiting for the food to cook, some of them played a friendly game of volleyball. Those who didn't participate in the game enjoyed the music and talked with members of the mayor cell and fellow Soldiers.
"How often does a lower enlisted Soldier get a chance to have a conversation with the mayor," said Pfc. Stanton Kelley, a radar operator of Battery C, 2 Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment from Ft. Sill, Okla. "It's good that they're out here for us."
As the barbecue started winding down, some of the Soldiers who initially entered the contest returned from their mission and were able to sit and eat a plate of ribs, brisket, steaks.
"We understand they have missions to go on, sometimes at the last minute," said Louis Hunter, East LSA MWR staff member, participant in the cook-out another Houston native. "When we do these things for them, it builds morale for Soldiers and contractors alike."
"These events such as the cook-offs ...give the Soldiers a chance to relax and talk with us," said Hunter. "It's stressful to go outside the wire day in and day out, that's what the MWR is here for."