FORT POLK, La. — Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, when hunger strikes, Fort Polk’s Patriot Warrior Restaurant, bldg 1162, Glory Loop, and Geronimo Warrior Restaurant, bldg 2382, Alabama Avenue, should be the first lines of defense against an empty stomach.
Chief Warrant Officer 3, Michael J. Barnes, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk food service advisor, said these restaurants need to be utilized, but the million-dollar question is how to get Soldiers, Families and the Fort Polk community through the doors to give them a shot.
“People, especially Soldiers, know the restaurants are here, but many don’t know the variety and quality of food we offer or when the food is being served. That’s why we have started posting the weekly menus online at the JRTC and Fort Polk Facebook page and sending them as an all-users email to get the word out about what our restaurants have to offer,” he said.
Barnes said for those worried about eating in the restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, both restaurants are following state regulation guidelines pertaining to safety restrictions, which includes washing and sanitizing hands and wearing masks for personnel, as well as patrons.
Geronimo Warrior Restaurant
Staff Sgt. Darrin Burnett-Smith, Geronimo Warrior Restaurant facility manager, said his goal is to provide Soldiers and other patrons with high quality meals.
“It just makes more sense for Soldiers to stop by and choose the wide variety of food offered at Geronimo Warrior Restaurant through the main line (main entrees such as meat and vegetables), short order (quick and easy burgers and hot dogs) and outside line (extra bars at Geronimo offering items such as wings and tacos) where we can provide anything the Soldiers want,” he said.
Burnett-Smith said, the two biggest reasons Soldiers go elsewhere to eat is because they think that the Warrior restaurants don’t serve the food they want to eat.
“I want Fort Polk Soldiers to realize that’s not true. When Soldiers eat here, I talk to them and get their feedback. I get most of my menus and ideas from the Soldiers themselves,” he said. “I’m open to new ideas to give the Soldiers what they really want, while also assuring that the food we serve here tastes good.”
Burnett-Smith said another important part of the equation is getting Soldiers to realize they will get their money’s worth when it comes to volume and the variety of food they are offered.
Burnett-Smith was also excited about an addition to the Geronimo Warrior Restaurant — a new kiosk.
Barnes said the restaurant is going to have its dining facility on one side, but it is in the process of making the other side a grab-and-go kiosk called Geronimo Outpost, which will open on Dec. 1 at the latest.
“If a Soldier doesn’t feel like waiting in line to get the food offered that day, they can use the kiosk to grab prepared meals, such as a burger or hot dog, and take it back to their room,” he said.
Burnett-Smith said the menu for the to-go option will be the same each day.
“If a Soldier needs breakfast and they are in a rush, they can stop in and grab one on their way to work,” he said.
Barnes said, just like anything else, the Fort Polk community could take advantage of this fast and easy way to grab a meal if they don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast or lunch.
“It’s open to anybody that would like to stop in and get a bite to eat,” he said.
Burnett-Smith said he thinks the Warrior restaurants play a vital role in the life of Fort Polk Soldiers.
“I want the Soldiers to know I’m here to listen and do everything I can to support them and the Fort Polk community. I want them to visit Geronimo Warrior Restaurant and see for themselves everything we have to offer,” he said. “We put our heart and soul into the food we make every day. My team and I wouldn’t serve anything that I couldn’t take home to feed my Family.”
Obie Ashworth, Geronimo restaurant lead cook, said the food they cook is wonderful. “We have everything we need to make it mouthwatering and tempting for Soldiers and the Fort Polk community as a whole,” he said.
Patriot Warrior Restaurant
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Frank Peterson, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division brigade food advisor, said the Patriot Warrior Restaurant is the main hub for Fort Polk dining. The 2,500 meal card holders, including the 1,700 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div Soldiers, on the installation can get food at the restaurant — even on the weekends.
“We give you bang for your buck. What you pay for a meal here is way better than what you could get anywhere else, on or off the installation,” he said.
Peterson said Patriot Warrior Restaurant focuses its meals around the Army’s Go-For-Green nutritional requirements.
“These are important menu standards that fuel our warriors and enable them to complete their mission successfully. Whether they want to lose weight or build muscle, Patriot Restaurant is the place they need to fuel their bodies with a wide variety of food to choose from, so they never get bored,” he said.
Peterson said the Patriot serves about 800 Soldiers per day. In addition, the Patriot is responsible for feeding units performing short-term training at Fort Polk, such as the Marines or National Guard, as well as Soldiers currently isolated under COVID-19 quarantine. The meals are picked up from Patriot Warrior Restaurant and brought back to the Soldiers in quarantine.
Ultimately, Peterson said the purpose of Warrior restaurants across the Army is misunderstood. He said he thinks people hear the word healthy and they tend to equate that with food that isn’t appetizing.
“I want Soldiers to see that Patriot Warrior is a place they can come to enjoy quality meals that taste great. The flavor of the food we produce here is wonderful,” he said.
“I challenge them to come to Patriot Restaurant and give us a chance to change their minds.”
Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Barrett, Patriot Warrior Restaurant manager, said his facility is all about giving their customers what they want.
“We are trying to offer a balance between what they want and the nutritional value they need,” he said.
Barrett said the Patriot Restaurant was awarded the Phillip A. Connelly award in 2020. The award celebrates excellence within the Army Food Service Program.
“We won the award for our region, and we are devoted to keeping that title and living up to the high standards it represents,” he said.
Motivating his team to continue cooking at the top of their game is something Barrett strives to do. He equates creating a good meal to art.
“Cooking is a culinary art. We try to encourage our culinary specialists to engage imagination, creativity and care as they develop their own works of art in the Patriot kitchen and the best quality food for Fort Polk,” he said.
What Barrett is striving for is an increase in the number of patrons coming through the Patriot Restaurant’s doors.
“Meal card holders, Department of Defense employees and Family members are welcome here. We want the chance to say we personally improved their day by feeding their hunger with an appetizing and nutritious meal,” he said. “It’s not really about us, it’s about them.”
Spc. Rafael Caraballo Rodriguez, Patriot Restaurant culinary specialist, said it’s all about the good tasting food.
“If you have a bad day and you come here to eat, when you take that first bite of your food — no matter what it is because everything we cook is good — it can change your mood for the better. I love being able to do that with the food I cook,” he said.
Barnes also wants to remind people that the culinary specialists who cook at the Warrior Restaurants are also Soldiers that can be called out to train at any moment.
“I don’t think they get credit for all they do. Not only do they cook the meals that fuel other Soldiers to do their mission successfully, as well as those in garrison, but they are also called to put on their fatigues. They don’t just cook. They are also warriors,” he said.
Barnes said he wants to change the narrative of eating at Fort Polk and have Soldiers and the Fort Polk community make the Patriot Warrior and Geronimo Warrior restaurants their first option for food instead of their last.