This was originally published April 19th, 2017 in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri.
I’ve written about Human Resource Specialist, MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 42A, which is a good job, if you like indoor desk work, Combat Engineer, MOS 12B, exciting job, and Infantryman MOS 11B, the top of the heap. Now I’m going to spend a few weeks on specific jobs, from basic through training to the type of work those soldiers do every day.
The Army is currently offering a $2,000 enlistment bonus for enlisting for three years as a cook, “Culinary Specialist” MOS 92G, $5,000 for 4 years, $6,000 for 5 years, and $7,000 for 6 years. That was the bonus money at the time this was originally published. Bonus’ change frequently. If you enjoy cooking and think you would like to cook for a living, be a chef in a restaurant, or manage a restaurant, becoming an Army Cook might be of benefit to you. There was a time when I would never have recommended this. When I went in the Army a cook was the bottom of the food chain (no pun intended). If a person scored too low on the entrance exams for most Army jobs, he was made a cook. When I got to my company in the 82nd Airborne Division, each company had Its’ own building with its’ own mess hall. All Privates through Specialists were on the KP (Kitchen Police) roster. Six or eight KPs were sent to the mess hall every day, to scrub floors, wash pots and pans, and generally do anything the cooks didn’t want to do. It was from 04:00 AM to 21:00 (9:00 PM). It was hot, loud, steamy and continuous. Our Mess Sergeant was an infantry Staff Sergeant who was mean as a snake with a perpetual hangover, and ran the mess hall with an iron hand. On weekends and holidays you could sell your KP for $20, and that was 1962 and 1963. I pulled so much KP that I was offered the job as a cook. No way! Things didn’t change much through Vietnam, but around the time the Army started trying to change from rough riders to professionals, the food service people started realizing their value and becoming more professional themselves.
I was a Rifle Platoon Sergeant in the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat Team in Italy in 1977 – 1979. We went on a fast moving 17 day field exercise in an Italian Army Training Area north of Rome. The food people couldn’t keep up with us, we missed meals. They caught up with us one time and all they had was condensed rice and shrimp, you just add water and heat it up, which they had done. It is not very good, the troops usually leave it. The troops came back for seconds and ate every drop that was there. About a week later our Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Murphy, was making rounds, visiting the troops, I took he and our Company Commander, Captain Victor Mitchell, to see my platoon. The colonel talked to the troops about the exercise and asked how they were doing – OK, then as he was ready to leave, he smiled and asked; “Are you getting enough to eat?” They answered in unison a big loud NO SIR! As we were walking back up the hill Colonel Murphy turned to Captain Mitchell; “Vic, what’s going on with the chow?” Captain Mitchell explained that the food service people couldn’t seem to keep up with us, or find us at meal time. We heard, through the rumor mill, that there was a shakeup in food service supervision, but we never had chow problems again.
How things have changed. Army MOS 92G was a Cook, then a Food Service Specialist, and now a “Culinary Specialist” who can receive civilian certification as a chef. They wear black trousers and a white chef jacket, while on duty. They have competitions for chef of the quarter, and large army posts have annual installation culinary competitions. Then there is the annual Military Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Virginia, which has competitors from all the services, National Guard and Reserves. The Pentagon has its own TV channel for military personnel. The cooking show “The Grill Sergeants” with military chefs, is one the most popular shows. There are no more “mess halls”, now there are Dining Facilities (DFAC). These are large consolidated facilities, with the latest equipment and technology, and offer a wide variety in their menus, because soldiers are no longer bound to eat in “their” DFAC, they can eat in any DFAC, which has created a competition between DFAC’s on the same post. Where there was once probably a hundred mess halls in a Division of about 12,000 soldiers, there are now 14 DFAC’s on all of Fort Bragg, North Carolina of over 50,000 soldiers. And there is no more “KP duty”, civilian contractors provide the KP’s in the DFAC’s. In fact, of those 14 DFAC’s, 10 are military and 4 are operated by the civilian contracting company.
In 1968 the Army established the “Phillip A. Connelly Awards Program” to promote professionalism in Army dining facilities. It has grown to an annual inspection of almost every dining facility in the Army, by the Joint Center of Culinary Excellence at Fort Lee, Virginia. There are three main categories “Military Garrison”, “Active Army Field Kitchen”, and “Reserve Component Field Kitchen” (guard and reserves). DFAC’s which are operated by combat units compete in the “Field Kitchen” category, because both their DFAC and Field Kitchen are inspected. The Joint Culinary Center of Excellence from Fort Lee, Virginia has a check list of 61 items in 9 different categories they use during inspections. They check Administration/Training/Supervision, Accounting Procedures, Request/Receipt/Storage of Rations, Field Food Service Sanitation, Command Support, Appearance/Attitude of Food Service Personnel, Servicing/ Troop Acceptability (they interview soldiers who eat at the DFAC), Kitchen Site Selection/Layout, and Food Preparation and Quality.
I have said many times that the most elite force you can simply enlist for is “Airborne”, I have the same recommendation if you want to be a cook. The top winners of the world wide “Phillip A Connelly Award” have been; In 2009, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, in 2012, 2014 and 2016 the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division. The DFAC manager of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, “Devils Den DFAC”, through those last two inspections was Sergeant First Class David Sarnecki. SFC Sarnecki graduated from high school in 1992, went to Illinois Wesleyan University for three years, tried to find a job, but couldn’t, so he decided to serve his country for three years, until the jobs opened up. He ended up loving the Army and loving his job, he commented; “They say an army moves on its stomach and keeping paratroopers fed, I’m right at the heart of the action”. Now he’s retiring from the Army, at age 43, with a masters degree in political science, which the Army paid for, and a certified chef with extensive experience in large food management and catering
To become an Army Culinary Specialist, the entrance requirements are still not that high, so it is easy to qualify for that MOS. Although, now college graduates are enlisting specifically to be a cook, because they want the training and experience in preparing and feeding in large volumes, and they want the Culinary Chef Certification. After basic training, the 92G AIT (Advanced Individual Training) is eight weeks and two days at Fort Lee, (Petersburg) Virginia. AIT for 92G is, in many ways like most other AITs, in that you are still a trainee. You have more freedom than in basic training, but you are still a trainee. The freedom seems to go from a few hours, on your own, on post in ACU’s (Army Combat Uniform), to more time on post, then a few hours in civilian clothes, to off post passes in civies. The first phase is basic cooking, learning the grills and ovens, temperatures, and how to read and follow recipe cards. In that phase you do baking, muffins & pies and bread from scratch. Then the Small Garrison phase, during which you cook small quantities of food, salads, meatloaf, vegetables, etc. Then on to the Large Garrison phase, where you prepare large portions, for hundreds of people. You are not allowed to get creative, because you don’t know some peoples dietary restrictions. And finally Field. Here you go to the field and live in tents. You learn how to operate in the mobile kitchen trailer (MKT) or the containerized kitchen (CK). You learn how to prepare meals in those units and without those units, i.e., a tent with stoves and tables. After AIT you can literally be assigned anywhere in the world, where the Army is located. If you use the airborne option you will attend three weeks of airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, then you will have an 85% chance of being assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Either the 82nd Airborne Division, (it has 90% of the cooks on post) or Special Forces or one of the other airborne units on post. Some will go to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, and some to the 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division in Anchorage, Alaska.
A Culinary Specialist has to be out of AIT for at least a year, and working in a DFAC to apply for the Certified Culinarian program (it is a test). Military cooks in the grade of Sergeant and above may apply to attend the Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course. That is a three week course at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence at Fort Lee, Virginia, which is attended by cooks from all the services. I think they learn real TV Food Show level chef cooking.
There is also an Enlisted Aide Training Course. Cooks are enlisted aides for general officers. That course teaches household management, uniform maintenance, basic bartending, accounting and scheduling.
This field is big, there are a lot of cooks in the Army. After making Specialist, promotions are sometimes slow, but morale among food service personnel now is 1000 % better than years past. There are still some units where cooks work full shifts (long hours), but most have DFAC’s staffed with shifts so everyone gets to work a normal day. A Brigade Combat Team in the 82nd Airborne Division consists of three infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, an artillery battalion, an engineer battalion, and a brigade support battalion. The cooks are all assigned to the brigade support battalion, however some are in Forward Support companies. A Forward Support Company, which provides transportation, supply, maintenance, and field feeding is attached to each of the other battalions, however, in garrison all help staff the brigade DFAC.
If you enjoy cooking, this can be a good job, a person can become a chef, but keep in mind that on the way to becoming a chef there will be a lot time over a hot stove cooking for several hundred people at one time.