HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Every Marine throughout their career has heard the saying "Every Marine, a Rifleman."
For most Americans this saying may not mean much, but for two of the Marines with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, this saying has a very personal meaning. They are the battalion's combat cooks.
Food service specialists Lance Cpl. Charles Melvin Hurd II and Cpl. Johnny Molina participated in Operation Khanjar with the rest of 2/8's Company G, starting July 2.
"I never really expected to see combat," said Hurd, "I planned on feeding G Company — not doing a combat push south for three days with them."
This push was part of Hurd's first field experience as a combat cook since he joined the Corps in November 2007, but Molina having been with a tank battalion before joining 2/8 has performed as a field messman multiple times.
"I kind of expected it," said Molina, "this is something that, while not probable, was always a possibility."
Uncomfortable with the idea of participating in the push at first, both Marines adapted to the change of pace quickly.
"When they found out they were going on the push they were a bit nervous," said Gunnery Sgt. Josue Santoyo, Co. G company gunnery sergeant. "Once we got out there, they calmed down and didn't worry about how dangerous it was."
"At times it was very grueling and hot, but that is all forgotten in the adrenaline rush when bullets start flying over your head," Hurd recalled.
While out with the grunts, Molina and Hurd carried the same weight as every other Marine in the battalion and assisted with the company's aid and litter team — the designated group who collects Marines wounded in battle and transports them to the front line medical facility.
"This experience hasn't really changed me much. My job is to be a cook, but if it comes down to it, I am a Marine and I take pride in that," Molina said. "It was a tough experience though — days without a shower, hot water to drink and very little food — but nothing in life is easy."
"I do it for my family and the knowledge they are safe because of my sacrifice," added the 21-year-old from Reading, Penn.
After he returns from this deployment, Molina plans to work toward his college degree in the medical or scientific fields, but he also says he will probably reenlist for another four years.
"After dealing with everything we have dealt with, I take pride in everything I have accomplished," Hurd stated about his experience with the leathernecks of 2/8. From his point of view, these two "just cooks" carried as much weight and covered as much ground as the infantry Marines, and for someone outside of the combat military occupational specialties, that is something to be proud of.
"I have much more respect for all of the Marines involved with this push," said the Houston native. "But after my four years I plan on getting out with a motivational tattoo and the memories of my experiences in the Corps."
Hurd plans on going back to college to study either the culinary arts or the medical field. He said everything he has done is all for his kids, and as long as he can take care of them, "it's all good."
Regardless of what they choose to do after this experience is over, both Molina and Hurd will always have the memories of their accomplishments and stories to tell their friends and families, reminding them that their time in the Corps wasn't spent as "just food service specialists."
They were Combat Cooks.
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This work, Combat cooks hit front lines with Company G, by Cpl Daniel Flynn, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.