From infantryman to cook; Soldier provides food military style

196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade
Story by Capt. Anthony Deiss

Date: 08.09.2010
Posted: 08.09.2010 07:18
News ID: 54185
From infantryman to cook; Soldier provides food military style

BALA HISSAR, Afghanistan – A former infantry soldier turned cook has traded in his bayonet for a spoon and now dishes out the sustenance of life. Sgt. Troy Heckenlaible has seen his deployment duties go from hunting insurgents in Iraq to providing army-style food in Afghanistan.

As a member of the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, Heckenlaible is on his second deployment to a war zone and this time around operates a U.S. Army Mobile Kitchen Trailer feeding Soldiers at Camp Bala Hissar in Kabul.

“Being an infantryman was good for my country and my company, but not as good for me,” said Heckenlaible, of Sioux Falls, S.D. “I enjoy the change.”

Originally deployed in 2003 near Ramadi, Iraq, Heckenlaible was assigned as an infantryman to the 1st Infantry Division after his job as a cook was no longer needed because of contracted dining services. Today, he serves hot meals daily to nearly 100 Soldiers and civilian contractors keeping the art of military chow alive and well.

“We serve everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to Chinese food and chicken cordon blue,” said Heckenlaible, noncommissioned officer in charge of the mess. “It’s mostly UGRs [Unit Group Rations], but I think some Soldiers enjoy it more than the food at Camp Eggers.”

“It sure beats eating MREs. It’s kind of like annual training eating out of the MKT,” said 2nd Lt. Lucas Scheibe, Camp Bala Hissar officer in charge from the 196th. “I’m pretty surprised; the quality of the food is quite good.”

Until recently, Camp Bala Hissar had no equipment or facility for feeding its residents because of its size and small number of personnel stationed here. Soldiers used to have to put on body armor and plan a convoy to Camp Eggers just to get a hot meal. Heckenlaible said with no permanent dining facility on the camp, Soldiers would have to drive several miles through Kabul to Camp Eggers – two to three times a day – just to eat.

“Now that we have a kitchen situated here, it’s more convenient for them,” said Heckenlaible.

“Heckenlaible is doing a heck of a job. Every day we have all the food we can eat,” said Scheibe, of Brookings, S.D. “He keeps everything stocked, he keeps the cold food cold and the hot food hot.”

The camp received a MKT earlier this year, but didn’t have any Soldiers with the skills and expertise to operate it. When the 196th arrived in June as the new Kabul Base Cluster Installation Command, the leadership knew just who to send.

“I enjoy cooking quite a bit and it’s nice to actually be doing my MOS [military occupational specialty] here on this deployment,” said Heckenlaible. “Food is a big morale booster for Soldiers, and if I have a small part in that – to keep the morale up – I’m happy doing it.”

Heckenlaible has more than eight years of experience in the Army and just as much as a cook. The Menno, S.D., native spent four years on active duty and four years in the National Guard and says it has been good to him.

“My military career has taken me many places: Iraq, Korea, Nicaragua, Suriname and now Afghanistan,” he said. “My time in the Guard has been some of the best experiences of my career.”

However, one thing Heckenlaible might enjoy more than the world travel the military has offered him is the Soldiers he serves on a daily basis.

“I’m a big people person and I enjoy the interaction I have with Soldiers,” said Heckenlaible. “I joke around with them, ask how their day is going, and if I serve them a meal – and their faces light up and they tell me thanks for doing this – that’s the morale boost I need.”