LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers and civilians, alike, had the same shocked expression on their face as each one walked into the dining facility for lunch at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, April 2.
The lunch menu has always been the same, a sandwich bar. On this particular day, food service specialists assigned to the 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, decided to try something different.
“We prepare two hot meals a day, usually. Today we made something special for them,” said Staff Sgt. Rene Arana, a food service specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 27th BSB, 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
The former infantryman said he has more freedom as a cook at FOB Mehtar Lam because he gets to create fresh new menu items.
“We create one specialty item, so when [soldiers and civilians] come through our line during lunch and dinner, we provide something different for them,” said Arana. “Be it a special grilled sandwich, a lobster salad, chicken wraps, we even make fresh crab cakes.”
A civilian contractor who enjoyed the hot lunch menu was Mohammed Niazi, a linguist and native of Irvine, Calif. He said the cooks at the dining facility are always respectful and said they do an excellent job.
“We usually have sandwiches for lunch. Today I was surprised, we had tacos, which was much better,” said Niazi.
Arana, a native of Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, said he regularly walks through the dining facility, sitting with and asking patrons for their feedback. He asks if there is something they would like to see added to the menu.
To break the monotony of serving the same meals, Arana collaborates with his soldiers in the kitchen to come up with better menu items working with what they have. One example he gave was a turkey cutlet which he described as looking like a hockey puck, served on its own. He asked his soldiers what they could do with it to make it more appealing. One of his soldiers came up with a different way to serve it.
“We sliced it down the middle, put a slice of cheese in it, put it in the oven, make fresh marinara sauce, and there you have it, 'Turkey Parmesan,'” Arana said.
“As a cook, you want to see people in the dining facility enjoy what they are eating,” he said.
Arana and the rest of the food service specialists may come from different units, but they take pride in what they do, together.
“We really appreciate the cooks because they take care of their customers,” said Niazi. “My friends and I are very satisfied with what they do out here.”