News: Vibrant Responders train with a full stomach
Story by Staff Sgt. Richard Andrade
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. – It is 4 o'clock in the morning as thunder lights up the black Indiana sky. Even though rain is falling on them, food service specialists are heating up the stove, cutting up fresh fruit and setting up tables prior to the breakfast rush.
The soldiers working together in the dining facility to provide hot meals are a small percent of more than 400 service members from active and Reserve Army components from across the U.S. taking part in Vibrant Response 13, a major exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North.
These cooks directly support Joint Task Force-51, a collaboration between military and civilian agencies. The task force will be activated in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident inside the continental United States in an effort to assist state and federal responders in saving lives, mitigating damage and helping those in need. The soldiers cook inside a Mobile Kitchen Trailer, which is able to serve up to 500 troops. They also set up a sanitation center to make sure everything is clean for those sitting down to eat at the dining facility.
One of the soldiers cooking two hot meals a day is Sgt. Rachel Degenhard, a food service specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 82nd Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps, based out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
“I think this exercise is fantastic because the [food service] soldiers get the proper training,” said Degenhard, a native of Montclair, Calif. “We provide healthy meals that are cooked to standard by following all the regulations according to the food service guidelines.”
Degenhard said she is proud to be a food service specialist and enjoys training soldiers.
“During this exercise, I get to lead and train soldiers in the proper way, to make them better food service sergeants later on, once they become leaders,” said Degenhard.
The current noncommissioned officer-in-charge is Sgt. 1st Class Dominic Leach, also assigned HHC. Leach has 13 active-duty soldiers and three Army Reserve soldiers as part of his team. He said it is his first time in charge of a dining facility and is glad to have Reserve soldiers as part of his group.
“I think this exercise is good training for them, since they don’t do this every day, like regular Army soldiers do,” said Leach.
“Personally, I think this training is great because my Reserve unit doesn’t have a kitchen section, so I am getting to do what I was trained to do,” said Spc. Janelle Woodruff, a Miami, Fla., native, and food service specialist, assigned to the 415th Chemical Brigade, based out of Greenville, S.C. “I am pleased to be able to help this unit.”
Leach, said the biggest obstacle he has faced since the exercise began is figuring out when would be a good time to have the dining facility open. To satisfy each of the task forces’ schedules, the dining facility added a midnight food service for the night shift personnel.
The Raeford, N.C., native said the best part of his job, after his soldiers’ hard work, is to see soldiers actually enjoy their meal.
The cooks’ efforts pay off when soldiers conducting training at Camp Atterbury focus on the mission with no worries about hunger. The training in turn will better prepare them in the event TF-51 becomes activated. Should that happen, the food service specialists will once again provide hot meals under any conditions even as they provide disaster relief to the affected communities.