"Order up! One Outpost Burger! Lettuce, tomato, American cheese! No mushrooms!"
The shout rang out through the smoky, cramped space as four food service specialists scrambled to prepare, cook and serve lunch orders to hungry Soldiers. The scent of French fries sizzling in hot oil mixed with grilling chicken and beef and a tang of teriyaki to create a mouthwatering fusion.
While a burger and fries or a rice bowl may be a fairly run-of-the-mill order at a military dining facility, this order was made more complicated by the setting it was placed in: the back of a truck.
Fort Stewart has been selected to test out the brand new Army food truck program, which kicked off with a test run at the Marne Reception Center March 24. During the test, two trucks served burgers, salads, paninis and other dishes to more than a hundred Soldiers.
The concept of the program is simple: provide Soldiers with convenient and healthy meal options wherever they are. When the program is fully underway Soldiers will be able to find these food trucks at their barracks, motor pools, and other places where they congregate.
"In a sense, it takes the dining facility to the Soldiers," said Master Sgt. Ronnie Lee Rooks, originally from Dade City, Fla., Senior Culinary Management noncommissioned officer for the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade.
The trucks will serve as an extension of the troop dining facilities, so meal card holders will be able to eat free, as they do in the regular DFAC, and non-meal card holders will pay the same price they would normally.
Fort Stewart was chosen as an ideal location to test out the new program because of the way the dining facilities here are set up, said Jose Millan of the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, who oversaw the deployment of the program.
"This provided the best opportunity to fill gaps in dining facility locations," said Millan. "Your motor pools are all clustered together, but the dining facilities are far away from them."
So by bringing the food trucks to the motor pool, Millan hopes to provide Soldiers a healthy meal like they can get from the dining facility, faster and more conveniently than a fast food restaurant.
Plus, "they'll get more bang for their buck," compared to buying lunch at fast food locations, said Rooks, because the meals will come with drinks, sides, a salad or vegetable and dessert. Just like what's available at the dining facility.
For cooks used to working in a traditional dining facility or a mobile kitchen trailer, switching to the cramped space in a food truck added a new level of complexity to meal preparation. The pace was much faster than a dining facility, and all the food was made to order.
While the long lines of Soldiers waiting to place their orders may have been a testament to the anticipation many feel about the new menu options, there was a different kind of excitement happening on the inside of the trucks.
"My adrenalin was rushing!" said Sgt. Vantayshia Jones, originally from Killeen, Texas, a culinary NCO attached to 135th Quartermaster Company, 3rd Inf. Div. Sust. Bde. , who was serving orders on one of the trucks said. "It was really exciting."
Despite the rush, Jones kept a calm smile on her face and kept the three Soldiers she was working alongside (and constantly bumping into) motivated and on target.
She said there were some minor hiccups when they first started serving, but once they settled into a rhythm, and became more comfortable with their communication, things started to smooth over.
"I think this is a great experience that every culinary specialist should go through," said Jones. "It's a big difference from the dining facility. Here we're really cooking food to order, and it really kept us on our toes!"