By Devon L. SuitsApril 13, 2018
FORT LEE, Va. -- Growing up, Sgt. Samantha Poe was drawn to a life of service -- either in the armed forces or within the food service industry.
Today, Poe serves as an enlisted aide to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, a job that blends military service and the culinary arts. But Poe said she's the first to admit that her Army career might have never happened.
Early on in life, Poe said, she spent a lot of time with her grandfather, listening to his "cool fighter pilot stories" as he reflected on his time spent in the Army Air Corps.
"My grandfather's service has always been a point of pride for my family," said Poe. "I still have his shadow box hanging in my living room."
By the time she was old enough to enlist, Poe said, the thought of going into the Army had crossed her mind many times. But back then, she said, her lack of knowledge about the military's culinary career fields, coupled with her desire to become an established chef, eventually led her down a different path. Instead of shipping to basic training, she opted instead for Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky.
As she pursued her college degree in culinary arts, Poe spent several years learning the ins and outs of the restaurant industry. She also found excitement participating in her school's seasonal culinary competitions.
It was at one of those competitions where Poe unexpectedly found the U.S. Army, and where her interest in service to her country was reignited in a way that would ultimately lead her to follow in her grandfather's boot-steps -- all while carving a path of her own.
WHEN 'MISE EN PLACE' MEETS PHYSICAL TRAINING
All throughout culinary school, Poe prided herself on being the first in the kitchen and the last to leave. While participating in a culinary competition, Poe recalled being surprised by what she found one morning as she pulled into her school parking lot.
Assembled outside were a bunch of people doing push-ups and jumping jacks in their white tee-shirts and chef clogs. It was 5:30 A.M.
Culinary students typically didn't do organized fitness training, especially right outside of the classroom. However, this was standard for the local Army culinary team participating in the event.
"They had already been there for an hour," she said. "They said they were just getting 'pumped up' by doing some PT before they went in. I mean come on! Who does that?"
According to Poe, the Army team had assembled just a week prior to the competition.
She said she had never realized that the Army was capable of performing at such a competitive level. And even though the Army team didn't win, their culinary skills, resolve, and dedication left a lasting impression on her, she said.
Poe graduated with a culinary arts degree in 2007. Five years later, after spending time in the industry refining her skills, she enlisted in the Army.
Today, as the enlisted aide to the Army's chief of staff, she's doing more than she'd ever done in the civilian world.
"My civilian jobs weren't near as stressful, or required as much as mine does now," she said, adding that the Army provided the necessary training to help her be successful in the job she now loves.
With just six years of service, Poe considers herself lucky. She started her career by supporting the Pentagon's executive dining facilities. Eventually, she made it through the highly competitive enlisted aide application process to become an aide to former Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno. Later, she was selected to support the current Army chief of staff.
"To all those young kids in high school that want to be culinary professionals, but they don't want to have to choose between serving their country and following what they love ... they can do both," she said.
ENLISTED AIDES -- ENABLING READINESS
Contrary to a widespread belief, enlisted aides are not "personal servants." Aides play a vital role in relieving generals of the minor tasks that could impact their official duties and responsibilities.
The Army authorizes enlisted aides to officers holding the rank of major general or higher. However, they are not allocated solely on the grade or title of a general officer, according to Master Sgt. Maria Fuentes, enlisted aide career manager, and former aide.
Generals that are authorized an aide must play a direct role in representing the Army or Department of Defense in addition to their primary duties and responsibilities, according to the DOD instruction governing the career field.
A general's representational duties serve to uphold the standing and prestige of the United States and the DOD through the extension of official courtesies to authorized officials and dignitaries of the United States and foreign countries.
In support of a general's representational duties, Soldier aides accomplish a wide array of tasks. Some of these responsibilities include:
-- Maintaining the general's military uniforms and civilian attire worn for official representational events.
The regulation defines a representational event as any occasion that is hosted by a general with the purpose of furthering an official mission or function. Any event that is not substantively related to the general's assigned duties does not qualify as a representational event.
Furthermore, since a general's uniform serves as a direct connection to the Army, the DOD, and the United States, it requires the utmost attention to detail.
-- Accomplishing tasks that assist the general officer in the performance of their other official duties and responsibilities.
Tasks include running errands that have a substantive connection to the officer's official responsibilities. However, errands should not be of a personal nature for the general or their dependents, Fuentes said. Moreover, the officer must reimburse aides for their transportation costs if duties performed are at their own expense.
"We keep the general officer from worrying about those small tasks. If their water pipe breaks in a general's house an enlisted aide will be there to make sure it is resolved. That's what we're there for. So the general can concentrate on their job and do what they need to do," Poe said.
-- Upholding the care, cleanliness, and order of the general officer's assigned military housing.
An enlisted aide is mainly responsible for the upkeep of the common household areas. Aides are not required to maintain military housing areas meant for the personal benefit of the general or their dependents, such as making beds, cleaning private areas, or organizing personal effects.
-- Purchasing, preparing and serving food and beverages in the general's assigned military housing for qualifying representational events.
Soldier aides also help plan and prep meals for the general officer. Aides are allowed to prep daily meals during regular duty hours. Work schedules may not be extended to accommodate the preparation of three daily meals.
"Every day is different, and it all depends on what's on the general's calendar," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Bogle, the enlisted aide to the 1st Cavalry Division commanding general at Fort Hood, Texas.
"Any minor task that could take away from his obligation as commanding general --- like making lunch, getting his ID card fixed, or picking up his medication -- I am there to take care of it," Bogle said. "That way he can stay focused on commanding the thousands of troops."
Soldiers from any career field can apply for the enlisted aide program, as long as they are a sergeant promotable and their unit authorizes their release, Fuentes said.
Eligible Soldiers must complete their application packet and submit it to the senior advisor and the assignments manager for the enlisted aide program at the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
Enlisted aide program managers review each application during the twice-annual selection panel process, Fuentes said. At the conclusion of the panel, the team routes select applications to the director of the Army staff for consideration.
"Once somebody gets approved, we schedule them for school. Culinary specialists, or 92Gs, are scheduled for the advanced culinary class and the enlisted aide course," Fuentes said.
Soldiers from other career fields must complete the initial culinary specialist course before taking the enlisted aide course, Fuentes added. The initial course is a prerequisite to the advanced culinary class, which provides Soldiers with the basics of food service to include food industry standards for sanitation and safety.
After Soldiers complete their training, they are put into a pool of eligible aides awaiting assignment, Fuentes said. Once an aide spot opens, the flag officer's staff will work through the General Officer Management Office and enlisted aide program managers to fill the position.
Currently, 81 enlisted aide positions exist Army-wide, Fuentes said.
Aide program managers review the general's requested criteria and respond with three to four eligible Soldiers. The general, or his or her staff, will review the packets, conduct interviews, and make a final decision.
After a Soldier is selected, notification is made and eventually the Soldier is reassigned as an enlisted aide for about 24 months, Fuentes said.
"Any Soldier out there that thinks that they're up for the challenge, I beg them to put their packet in," Bogle said. "The enlisted aide program is a great opportunity. You get to see a different side of the Army."
THE ULTIMATE JUGGLING ACT
Generals often work very long duty days. In turn, an enlisted aide is often relied upon to work atypical hours as well, which can include evenings, weekends and holidays.
"Sometimes it can be trying, especially around the holidays, but you have to balance it," Bogle said. We also have to make time to do the Army stuff. We still do PT and complete an Army Physical Fitness Test. We still go to the range, but it is different for us. We have to make sure we can fit it into the calendar."
To ensure success, enlisted aides must maintain responsibility for their careers, Fuentes added.
"That's why I say it requires a certain kind of noncommissioned officer to be able to do this job. Not only do you have to take care of your boss, but you have got to take care of yourself. Soldiers have to have that motivation to do the necessary tasks to progress in (their) career."
43RD JOINT CULINARY TRAINING EXERCISE
Even with their somewhat hectic schedules, Poe and Bogle still find opportunities to cultivate their professional culinary skills. Recently, the two aides participated in the 43rd Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Virginia.
During the week-long exercise, 26 teams -- made up of service members from all five branches as well as military personnel from France, Great Britain, Canada, and Germany -- are judged against industry standards set by the American Culinary Federation.
Poe served as team captain for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and participated in several events. Bogle competed in the Enlisted Aide of the Year competition and entered into the pastry category.
While the culinary training event is often perceived as a competition, it also helps bring the military chef community together to interact with some of the industry's leading professionals. Moreover, the event shows service members that there is more to the 92G career field than just supporting a military dining facility, Poe said.
At the conclusion of the training event, officials presented 56 gold medals, 135 silver medals, and 141 bronze medals to the participating military chefs for exceeding culinary industry standards.
Bogle received a gold medal in the enlisted aide category. Poe was awarded "Best in Class" as a contemporary pastry professional, and earned two gold medals, one for pastry and one for "military hot food kitchen."
The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall student team, coached by Poe, earned a Bronze Medal.
PAY IT FORWARD
Preparing for this year's culinary training event was not an easy task for the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall team, according to Poe.
"One of my fellow noncommissioned officers told me back in October that he was interested in taking a team to the culinary exercise," Poe said. "He also wanted to field Myer's first student team and asked if I would help train the students."
The ACF divides the culinary exercise into student and professional chef categories.
To compete in the student category, Soldiers must meet the ACF's age requirement, cannot possess any culinary certifications, and cannot have more than two years of professional cooking experience.
After receiving command approval to organize a team, Poe assembled a group of five Soldiers in December and started training shortly after the beginning of the year. The culinary training event at Fort Lee was scheduled for the second week of March.
"So, here I was with this hodgepodge group of Soldiers," Poe said. "A majority of my student chefs had no cooking experience before the Army. And unlike other culinary teams, we don't get pulled from our daily jobs before the culinary event to concentrate on training."
Driven by her history in culinary competitions, combined with her love for the culinary industry, the sergeant remained encouraged to field a well-trained team. For Poe, this meant long hours and extra training on weekends.
"You can make some amazing food with just some basic vegetables and some chicken. Students need the knowledge and the skills to be able to do that," Poe said. "That is what I'm so excited about when I train and watch these five students. They go from preparing simple dishes to creating a fine-dining four-course meal.
"I'm so proud of them for just sticking with it. The students had to have a lot of dedication and perseverance to be able to be here. They just kept pushing, and they've just been amazing," she added.
As the Chief's enlisted aide, Poe said that the past six months supporting the training event have been hard, but she is thankful for all the support of her family and leadership.
"I don't know that my husband and I have had a meal together for the entire month of February," she said. "He is active-duty Army serving with the Caisson Platoon in the Old Guard. My mother also lives with us, and I wouldn't be able to do half the stuff I do without her.
"But my husband knows how much the culinary arts means to me," she said. "He also likes how much I love teaching and training.
"My daughter doesn't quite understand a lot of times," Poe said of the hours she spends training, "but she'll be able to look back and be able to say, 'Yeah, my mom did that, so that I can do it too!'"