News: Soldier heating up the competition
Story by Sgt. Garett Hernandez
FORT HOOD, Texas – While the rest of the Army has done more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, the cooks have already completed one shift before the other Soldiers have even awaken.
Spc. Henifa Lopez, a food service specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 589th Brigade Support Battalion, Task Force Pegasus Fires, ensures that hungry Soldiers receive hot meals to start their day.
The 20-year-old Lopez joined the Army after graduating from Westwood High School in Mesa, Ariz. While in school, the descendant of Panamanian immigrants kept herself busy by running track, working in the student council, and participating on a championship-winning cheerleading team.
During her senior year of high school, Lopez was approached by an Army recruiter. Lopez, because she had never before considered joining the Army, decided to listen to what the recruiter had to say.
“He talked about the benefits and how it pays for college,” said Lopez.
She said the thing that attracted her to the Army and what ultimately lead to her joining was the money for college.
When not on duty in the DFAC or in the field, Lopez takes college classes working toward a degree in physiological science. She said she hopes to use that college money to attend Arizona State University with the help of the Army’s Green to Gold Program. After obtaining a degree in physiological science, Lopez wants to help Soldiers with behavioral health problems and post-traumatic stress.
She was drawn to becoming a cook, because it’s what she had always loved.
“I’ve always liked cooking, so when I saw the video of all the different jobs [in the Army], I thought this would be the best job,” said Lopez.
Growing up, Lopez learned to cook by helping her mother with dinner.
“She really knows her material when it comes to the food service world,” said Sgt. Shawn Robinski, a food service sergeant with HHC, 589th BSB.
Most days, Lopez starts her morning at 4 a.m. with cook’s mount, where supervisors make certain that all cooks have clean hands and all necessary equipment, at the Patriot Inn Dining Facility, after which she prepares vegetables and starches for the day’s meals. She usually cooks vegetables, but she has worked most other positions within the DFAC.
While still living at home, she not only helped with cooking dinner but would also bake dessert.
Lopez said her favorite dessert to bake while growing up was fudge brownies.
She said she enjoys baking so much she wants to become a night baker at the Patriot Inn.
“In the dining facility, other NCOs tell me that she asks to be put on the harder products, because she wants to learn night baking,” said Sgt. 1st Class Bronson Jacoby, platoon sergeant and food service sergeant with HHC, 589th BSB.
“I enjoy the culinary side of the job,” said Lopez. “Baking, cake decorating, and making garnishes, that’s what I enjoy.”
Lopez is part of the team from the Patriot Inn that participated in the 46th Department of the Army level Philip A. Connelly competition dining facility division.
With her knowledge and skills in the kitchen, Lopez has been an asset to the teams she has been a part of while participating in the Philip A. Connelly competition.
“We need her.” said Robinski, a native of Killeen, Texas. “We need her input. We need her leadership. We need her as a Soldier to work and get the job done.”
For her hard work and attention to detail, Lopez received a coin of excellence from James Riddle, the International Food Services executive association manager. IFSEA is the sponsor for the Philip A. Connelly program.
“Specialist Lopez is an extremely hard worker,” Sgt. 1st Class Armond Alexander, Patriot Inn Dining Facility manager with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 69th Air Defense Brigade and native of the U.S. Virgin Islands. “She has prepared dishes from scratch that the average Soldier wouldn’t be able to perform.”