FORT IRWIN, Calif. - At the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert, little can be seen at 2 a.m. except lights in the distance. In the new Containerized Kitchen and the old Mobile Kitchen Trailer on Forward Operating Base King, however, the sound of clattering pans and the smell of cooking meat fills the air. The cooks of 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team are hard at work even at this early hour, cooking to feed 1,400 Soldiers come sunrise. They prepare Soldiers for a day of hard training throughout all of 1st HBCT's NTC rotation.

"My job is to feed the Soldiers on FOB King and provide nutritionally-balanced meals for approximately 1,400 Soldiers per day," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Isaza, 1st HBCT Food Service noncommissioned officer. "This is a little different than back home because we don't serve lunch, but also the weather conditions and the sand make it a little more of a challenge. Overall the objective remains the same - to feed Soldiers the best we can."

But feeding all the Soldiers on FOB King requires hours of cooking in order to provide the best possible meal.

"Our Soldiers are working between 10 and 12 hours a day," said Sgt. 1st Class Isaza. "In the beginning, we were working 16 to 18 hours a day. We would start at 2 a.m. and be up until 10 p.m. Breakfast usually starts around 2 a.m. unless it's a steak meal, then we have to start at midnight because it takes so long."

However, the cooks of 1st HBCT are motivated and prepared for the task.

"Cooking has always been a passion for me," said Pfc. Lister St. Rose, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Support Battalion. "So when I was offered the opportunity to cook, I jumped right in. It's more challenging out here. We have a lot less space and people, so we have to prep a lot earlier because there is a lot of food to put out for a lot of people."

The elements also posed a challenge for the cooks in the Mojave Desert, where sandstorms and high winds are considered every day occurrences.

"(Cooking out here is a) great preparation for deployment because 90 percent of the cooks assigned to the brigade have minimal experience when it comes to cooking in the desert," said Sgt. 1st Class Isaza. "So if we are faced with that challenge, I believe that this will be a very beneficial exercise for us."

Although berated by the elements and working odd schedules, the cooks of 1st HBCT strive for perfection.

"I've done this for 17 years, and I still get the same joy out of someone coming up and telling me they enjoyed their meal as I did back when I was a young guy," said Sgt. 1st Class Isaza. "That's what we all strive for; no cook wants to put out a bad meal. At the end of the day, if the Soldiers are happy, then we're happy."