News: Food Service Specialists: The stomach of the operations and unsung heroes
Story by Sgt. Shanika Futrell
FORT POLK, La. - When you think of an aviation brigade you think of pilots and helicopters, and when you think of U.S. Army soldiers you think of infantry, war, fighting and communication.
But an often-forgotten group of soldiers who help to keep the morale up, put a smile on your face when you finally get to see them, and keep your body nourished are the food service specialists -- the stomach of the operations.
Meals ready-to-eat, better known as MREs, are what many soldiers are used to when in the field, but the leadership of the 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, "Task Force Wings," know it takes more than that to keep the mission going.
"If you take care of your soldiers, they will take care of you," said Chaplain (Capt.) Tim Raburn, the chaplain for TF Wings.
"A hot meal equals happy soldiers, and that is what we strive to do -- keep them happy and well fed," said Sgt. Rodrick Young, a food service NCO for TF Wings.
At about 4:15 a.m., the food service specialists begin cooking breakfast and at about 12:30 p.m., they begin to cook dinner chow.
"Hot water, hot water," yelled Pfc. Nicholis Samlin, a food service specialist with TF Wings, as he walks through the containerized kitchen with a ladle filled with scalding hot water. "Hot water," responded other food service specialist to communicate they heard Samlin.
The food service specialist is primarily responsible for the preparation and service of food in field or garrison food service operations, but soldiers don't often think about them until it is time to eat in the field.
"Many soldiers are married and live off post, so they don't use the [dining facilities] at all," said Sgt. Mario Smith, a signal support specialist team leader for TF Wings. "Now that we are in the field training, I'd rather have two hots and an MRE than three MREs a day. The food they serve is good and more nutritious than the highly-caloric MREs provide."
It is about 1 p.m., and the containerized kitchen is blazing hot, but the food service specialists push through the sweltering austere conditions daily to ensure the morale of soldiers stay high and keep them motivated.
"It gets to an oppressive temperature in here due to the hot weather outside combined with the heat coming from the [modern burner unit]," said Staff Sgt. David Dobson, the food service NCOIC for TF Wings. "Bake, fry, braise, boil, simmer, steam and sauté is what we do and we are going to continue to provide the needed service to keep our fellow comrades nourished and happy."
When in the field, the food service specialists don't just have one duty -- they do whatever is needed to help the mission be successful.
"Samlin is tasked as part of the clearance team and all of us are first responders in the event of a mass casualty," said Dobson. "Food service specialist is the most versatile [military occupational specialty] in the Army."
Food service specialists are not just cooks -- they're Jacks-of-all-trades, and Dobson said he makes sure he gives his soldiers their dues.
"I ensure I take care of my soldiers, whether that means to write up the awards or submit their names to see the battalion, brigade, or the division commander when they come around," said Dobson.
Every day, soldiers go through the chow line and express their appreciation to the food service specialists, but when they return back to garrison they probably will have forgotten about them again.
"We are everybody's hero when we are in the field, but when we get back home remain the unsung heroes," Dobson said.