News: Dinner is served Marine cook awarded “Cook of the Year” for Marine Corps Reserves
Story by Cpl. Austin Long
SANGIN, Afghanistan - Standing over a large pot, Cpl. Daniel Russo dropped lobster tails one by one into boiling water. A small cloud of steam poured over the rim of the pot and quickly filled the kitchen. He checked his watch: almost 3:30 p.m.
The job is exhausting. Most of Russo’s days are started early and ended late. He cooks two hot meals a day, usually breakfast and dinner, for the more than 40 Marines and sailors with the Security Forces Assistance Advisor Team at Forward Operating Base Nolay. Although taxing, Russo says he enjoys his job.
“I like being a cook,” said Russo, an active duty reservist from Watertown, Mass. “It keeps you busy, it keeps you moving. Everything is timed. In [Afghanistan] it makes time go by quick.”
Preparing over a hundred meals a day, seven days a week, could be stressful for some, but Russo said he doesn’t let it get to him. He simply comes in to work and does what needs to be done.
His work hasn’t gone unnoticed. This month, Russo was awarded Cook of the Year for the Marine Corps Reserves. His unit, the 25th Marine Regiment, submitted him for the award following his superior performance during the unit’s two-week field exercise last year at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
During the exercise, Russo and his team of four Marines were responsible for providing hot meals twice a day for about 500 Marines. Russo had recently been promoted and had the added weight of leading the team. The unit’s command recognized the complexities of Russo’s accomplishments and recommended him for the award.
“It’s nice to know that there’s an award out there for cooks to help them strive to do better, because they know they aren’t being overlooked,” said Russo. “But just because I received the award doesn’t mean I think I’m any better than anyone else. And honestly it’s just kind of added stress because these guys expect a lot from me. I want to live up to their expectations.”
Russo said he takes pride in the food he serves and tries to add something different to each meal. Although his kitchen has limited facilities and resources, Russo uses various combinations of spices, meats, and vegetables to satisfy the cravings of his fellow Marines.
“I love his cooking,” said Sgt. Angel Alonso, a radio operator from Dallas. “He cooks these random meals that raise morale because it reminds you of home in a way and tastes delicious. He tries to break the monotony of meals by changing them up each time.”
Russo’s ingenuity and ability to handle stress can be attributed to his full time job— working as a case worker in Springfield, Mass. He mentors troubled youth and helps them transition from the detention center back to their homes, a halfway house, or to foster care.
Russo said he loves working with kids and hopes to return to his job following his deployment in Afghanistan; however, while in Afghanistan, Russo said he will continue working on improving the quality of his food.
“Just like anything, the job has its ups and downs, but that doesn’t deter me from doing my best,” said Russo.
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