POHANG, South Korea, April 17, 2017 — The dining facility is a critical element in supporting troops so that they can carry out their missions, so it comes as no surprise that service members from multiple units and branches worked together to support Operation Pacific Reach Exercise 17 here.
The Army’s 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command oversaw the main dining facility at the 1st Republic of Korea Marine Corps camp. The Navy provided meals at Pier 9 and the 2nd Infantry Division maintained a combined dining facility with South Korean soldiers at the Area Distribution Center. Troops from those units worked in the dining facilities and were joined by soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, the 8th Army and the North Carolina Army National Guard.
In order to provide hot meals to the soldiers, dining facility personnel are given different tasks. Outside line cooks prepare pastries, salads and drinks while the main line cooks ready entrees: starches, vegetables and meat. Additionally, U.S. soldiers and Korean augmentees worked on kitchen patrol, washing dishes, wiping down tables and ensuring facilities are clean at all times.
Preparing hot meals for all of the soldiers during an exercise of this scale is no easy task. Dining facility personnel start cooking three hours before the facility is open for service. Meal items are continuously prepared throughout dining hours to ensure every soldier has the opportunity to enjoy a hot meal before and after a hard day's work.
At the main dining facility alone, culinary specialists prepare more than 1,000 pounds of food each day to serve approximately 900 soldiers and make an additional 200 meals to be sent out to units that cannot make it back in time due to mission requirements.
"The main [dining facility] is operating three mobile kitchen trailers during the exercise,” said Army Staff Sgt. Oval Bajjo, a culinary specialist with the 339th Quartermaster Company. “Each MKT prepares food for up to 700 people, so the [facility] is fully prepared to cover all the soldiers in the field."
Operating the MKTs was a learning experience for many of the junior enlisted soldiers who have not had the opportunity to work in one. Soldiers do not learn to operate the mobile kitchens during their time at Advanced Individual Training.
"This served as a great opportunity to teach a lot of the junior soldiers the field expedient way of preparing food," Bajjo said. “My training from back then was a lot different from what it is now. It was nice to be able to teach them a little something different that they have never experienced. They get to go back with something from an old soldier.”
Sharing Trade Secrets
Although the dining facility teams hadn’t worked together before, the fact that everyone's military occupational specialty is the same -- culinary specialist -- helped the joint operation run smoothly.
"It's my first time coming to Korea,” said North Carolina Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Dantae Lawon, who came to Pohang to assist the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. “I had a good experience working with different soldiers from different backgrounds. The many soldiers coming from different [dining facilities] all around Korea gave us a variety of ways of doing things."
The Pier 9 dining facility fed more than 400 service members working in the pier area. Army and Coast Guard personnel helped operate the facility alongside the Navy, often assisting on kitchen patrol.
"You have to be really flexible and communicate a lot with the different branches because the standards are different for different branches,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class James Wear, the culinary specialist overseeing the Pier 9 facility. “So you need to talk about it together and come to an understanding."
The combined joint operation provided a unique opportunity for soldiers to not only form new friendships, but also to share secrets of the trade, especially when sustaining soldiers in the field.