Army cooks feed family of 300

COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY, Iraq – It has been said that an Army runs on its stomach. Most Soldiers would agree with that statement.

Chow is one of the main ingredients in keeping Soldiers working to their fullest capacity. A good meal can mean the difference between accomplishing the mission and failure.

The Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment on COP Cleary rely on a team of three Soldiers and two noncommissioned officers to supply them with sustenance.

A typical day for cooks in the combat zone requires them to wake up at a not-so-typical hour to prepare breakfast. According to Pfc. Emril Getscher, a cook for 1-15 Inf. Regt., the food service team wakes up at 4 a.m. and is busy cooking half an hour later.

"Half of cooking is presentation," said Getscher, of Hartford County, Md., "We try to make everything we do look good as well as taste good."

After breakfast is served and the area is cleaned, the food service team usually has a few hours before they have to start the process over again for dinner. They end their day around 9 p.m. every night.

Because the team is short on personnel, non-food service Soldiers are tasked for "kitchen patrol." Their duties include emptying the trash cans, cleaning the dining area, washing dishes, and any other small jobs that would normally pull the cooks away from their duties.

Each meal comes with a menu and instructions the cooks use. The menu has everything the cooks need to prepare and handle the food. Food and supplies come from Forward Operating Base Hammer, where 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s headquarters is located. Staff Sgt. Russell Slouffman, senior noncommissioned officer in charge of food service at COP Cleary, said Company F, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, brings convoys of rations, supplies and supplements every few days.

According to Slouffman, of Miami, the dust is a battle every day. Food sanitation is a large part of a cook’s job, and harsh conditions in Iraq can make the job even harder. Slouffman leaves no room for excuses where conditions are concerned. He makes sanitation a daily part of his and his Soldiers’ duties.

"One of the biggest problems is not getting the food and supplies we ask for," Slouffman said. "It’s not really a supply issue; it’s the conditions out here. For example, we can’t get ice cream out here because it would have to be transported on dry ice or in freezers. We just don’t have those capabilities."

Slouffman said ice cream is one of the main requests of Soldiers from COP Cleary, especially in the summer, when temperatures can reach 120 degrees.

Of the meals they do receive at the outpost, both Slouffman and Getscher agree that steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs are Soldiers’ favorites.

"When we cook the hamburgers and hot dogs, everyone feels like they are at home," Getscher said. "We have the grill going and we bring out chili and chips and it kind of brings us all back to the states."

The job is difficult, and the hours are long, but all the cooks find enjoyment and fulfillment in what they do.

"Sure the hours are long and the work is hard, but we all love to cook," Getscher said, "and when people say thank you, it makes it all worth it."

"We are the No. 1 morale booster out here," Slouffman said. "When Soldiers get excited to eat something we cooked, I get excited. It’s all about seeing the smiles on their faces when they come to chow."