News: Flying the friendly skies, Army cook serves up smiles at any altitude
Story by Sgt. Scott Akanewich
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. - Spc. Jenetta Johnson is accustomed to providing excellent customer service, which she does as an Army cook with the 785th Military Police Battalion.
However, this isn’t Johnson’s first foray into the arena of making people happy.
Her military career began not with the Army but rather with the Navy, right after high school. However, after five-and-a-half years on the high seas, she decided to start a family and left the service for a civilian career as an in-home caregiver, which she was happy with while she raised her children. Once the nest in her native Detroit was empty, she decided a new challenge was in order.
A year ago, Johnson began a civilian career as a flight attendant with Pinnacle Airlines, and is extremely happy in her new job. However, something was still missing, she said.
“I wanted to get back in because I enjoy the military, assisting others and serving my country,” said Johnson. “Now, I plan on staying in until retirement.”
Initially, Johnson wanted to be an Army paralegal. However, there were no slots available at her unit when she inquired to enlist, so when the cook Military Occupational Specialty was offered, she jumped at the opportunity, anyway.
As it’s turned out, there are more similarities between her civilian and military occupations than one would think, she said.
“It’s really all about customer service,” said Johnson. “You get to meet a lot of people, look after them and their general welfare.”
Due to the fact that she flies on smaller commuter aircraft, she is the only flight attendant aboard. So with the two pilots, it’s a rather small crew, akin to a small squad or a fire team, she said.
“When we fly, we look out for each other, just like Soldiers,” said Johnson. “We can be on-the-road for as long as five days and our flights range from 20 minutes to two-and-a-half hours.”
The infectious enthusiasm that is on display when she flies carries over to her military duties, said Staff Sgt. Abdoukhadre Butler, a 21-year veteran of the cooking wars, assigned to the 1015th Maintenance Company in Atlanta.
“She sure talks a lot,” said Butler, a Desert Storm vet. “She’s not your average cook.”
Maintaining this positive mental approach serves her fellow cooks and customers, as well, he said.
“It just comes natural for her,” he said. “She’s never upset and always smiling and willing to go the extra mile.”
Another adjustment Johnson had to make was to re-acclimate not only to a daily military schedule, but one even more grueling and extreme than the average soldier due to the nature of her job.
The cooks on Base Camp Tusi work split shifts, one-day-on, one-day-off. They arrive to begin preparing breakfast at 3 a.m., then work through the morning meal until completion. Only when the mess hall is clean can they return to their barracks for much-needed rest before they return for dinner.
However, there is a certain unpredictability to Army life compared to the regimented schedule of her civilian profession, she said.
“When we fly, our itineraries are planned days in advance down to the smallest detail,” said Johnson.
After a two decades-plus break-in-service, upon her re-entry into the military, her prior-service peers weren’t the only ones younger than her, she said.
“I was older than my drill sergeants,” Johnson said with a laugh. “But, they treated me well.”
Despite her newfound adventures as a soldier, she still remembers her civilian vocation and applies the same level of customer service to both.
“Once you’re a flight attendant, you’re always one,” she said.