ARMY COOK = CHEF

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.

Sometimes the jacket comes off during food prep.

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 and 2014 the 1st Brigade Combat Team, in 2015 the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, the 1st Brigade again in 2016, and in 2019 the award for the best Dining Facility in the Army went to the 82nd Support Battalion.

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.

The 2019 winning DFAC is called the Provider Café, and is operated by the 223rd Quartermaster (QM) Field Feeding Company, of the 82nd Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade, and they are professional paratroopers as well as professional chef’s.

Serving in any job (MOS) in the 82nd Airborne Division is working in a different culture from most of the rest of the Army.  It is a culture of achievement and success, a culture of professionalism.

Provider Café DFAC Thanksgiving layout.

223rd QM Co paratrooper preparing for a parachute jump.

223rd QM Co shooting on the range.

223rd QM Co taking the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test)

Culinary Specialist soldiers must stay fit.  The maximum score on the new ACFT is 600.  These are the 223rd QM Co soldiers who scored above 500.  This would be impressive for any army company.

223rd QM Co Specialist Sindi Rodriguez won the 82nd Airborne Division and the Fort Bragg Installation Chef of the Year FY20.

The 223rd is a company of winners, but it is not unique in the 82nd Airborne Division.

82nd Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Dining Facility

1st QTR FY2020 Superior Dining Facility Winner. This is our FOURTH consecutive quarter receiving this Award, sweeping the calendar year of 2019. So proud of the Culinarians and Leaders of the Panther Brigade Dining Facility.

3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division October 23rd 2020.Panther Family;  today we are recognizing the outstanding performance of the following Culinary Specilalists:

Staff Sgt. Christopher Go awarded an Army Achievement Medal for winning Brigade Chef of the Quarter.

Sgt. John Bawuah an Army Commendation Medal for winning Installation Chef of the Quarter.

Specialist Treshawn Speight was awarded an Army Achievement Medal for Brigade Chef of the Quarter and an Army Commendation Medal for winning Installation Chef of the Quarter.

Congratulations and well done!

82nd Airborne Division, 1st Brigade Combat Team Dining Facility (Devil’s Den DFAC)

Your Devils Den team won the Super Bowl(Best Thanksgiving Fort Bragg Installation). This is the most important meal of the year for a 92G. To say for the next year we are the champions is an honor and a pleasure. Of course we could not accomplish anything without the hard work of all the Culinary Specialist/Paratroopers assigned to 1 Brigade Combat Team. Thank you to all for the support. #StrikeHold #BlackDevils #DevilsDen #IfYouAintFirstYoureLast

In the 82nd Airborne Division, even our cooks can go to #RangerSchool! Meet Specialst Matthew Braswell, a culinary specialist assigned to the 307th Brigade Support Battalion,  1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.  He loves being in the #AllAmerican Division because he gets to jump out of airplanes and work for some of the best leaders in the US Army.

U.S. Army Sgt. Daniela Archbold, a culinary specialist, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, prepares the ingredients for the main entrée for the chef competition during All American Week XXIX May 21, 2018, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Four teams, one from each Brigade is tasked with cooking a three-course meal for a panel of judges. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Gallagher)
U.S. Army Sgt. Daniela Archbold, presents and serves one of the three courses during the chef competition during All American Week XXIX May 21, 2018, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The chef competition is only one of several events and competitions that takes place during All American Week. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Gallagher)

The 2017 Phillip A. Connelly award for the best DFAC went to the CSM Lawrence T. Hickey Dining Facility at Grafenwöhr, Germany, which is staffed by both US Army Culinary Specialists and German civilian cooks.

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 three days at Fort Lee, (Petersburg) Virginia.

US Army veteran Bryce Ward gave this detailed description of 92G AIT.

“I am a 92G and graduated Culinary Specialist AIT in July 2017.

Let me give you an outline of it:

Congratulations, you graduated basic training. You’re reporting to Fort Lee, Virginia, to the 23rd QM BDE, 266 QM BN. (266th Quartermaster Battalion, 23rd Quartermaster Brigade) There are two companies in this BN. There is Bravo Company and there is Tango Company.

Your first stop with be 23rd QM BDE, BDE HHC.  (Headquarters and Headquarters Company)  Your stay here can range from a few hours to a few months. It all depends what your AIT is and when classes start. There are 92A’s, 92F’s, 92G’s, 92R’s, 92S’s, 92W’s, 92Y’s, 68M’s, and 27D’s with you here.

From BDE HHC, you all will branch off and head your separate ways to AIT when your classes start.

You’ll either take a walk across BDE HHC’s basketball court to Tango Company, or you’ll walk, west I think, to Bravo Company. In my time in AIT, we did not have Drill Sergeants but Platoon Sergeants. Today, you WILL have a Drill Sergeant. Why? Because big Army doesn’t think there’s enough discipline in AIT, and Drill Sergeants will bring that back. So, they’re not just in basic anymore. Beware.

Before AIT, you will pick up your TA-50 gear (field gear) plus your cook whites. You may wear the old cook white smocks, but since the Army has transitioned to the chef jacket, you may be issued that now instead.

AIT will begin with the first day being an 8 hour long orientation at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCOE) auditorium. On this day, you will be taught what you’ll learn throughout your 8 week, 3 day stay in AIT land. You will be told what your class number is (ex. 20–016, or ‘Year 2020 – Class #16) who your civilian instructors will be for the Techniques of Cookery and Small Quantity Baking modules (TOC/SQB), and what date your class will graduate. They’ll reiterate the battle buddy system, SHARP policies, EO policies, etc, and TRADOC regulations that apply to initial entry training soldiers. If you are a re-class, TRADOC rules for IET don’t apply to you.

A caveat: You will see that the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy also train their cooks at Fort Lee JCCOE. They will all be trained separately from each other. You will not share classes with them. You will see them in formations outside of the building, however, and that’s about it. Notably absent will be the Coast Guard, as they train their cooks at USCG Training Center Petaluma, California.

For lunch on this day, you’ll get to eat at the JCCOE DFAC, where your meals are cooked by Soldiers three weeks ahead of you in AIT. They’ll try to sell it like you’re eating at a Michelin rated establishment that serves superb food. Don’t believe it. If you barely know how to cook, your battle buddies just three weeks ahead of you don’t know how to cook much better. Trust me. If you survived your basic training DFAC, you’ll survive this one. If the rice is crunchy just swallow, don’t chew.

The next day, you’ll sit in the same auditorium and be lectured for another 8 hours about basic food safety, the military rules and regulations that govern military food service operations, simple rules even a Jack in the Box employee would know such as; ‘FAT TOM’, proper hand washing and kitchen sanitation, what cross contamination is, how to rotate stock properly, what the proper hot and cold holding temperature is, how to shelf foods properly (like never putting raw meat over cooked meats), what a cooks mount is, and what is required to wear with the chef uniform (thermometer, note pad, pen, ID card, ID tags, apron)

Then, you’ll spend one week in Techniques of Cookery, and one week in Small Quantity Baking. In TOC, you’ll learn the system of measurement used in cooking (tablespoon, teaspoon, cup, quart), you’ll learn the different types of knives, how to cut with those knives, how to read a recipe card, how to prep ingredients. If you’re lost, or have questions, there will be a salty, retired 92G civilian instructor to guide you, and possibly yell at you.

In the TOC module you should learn how to quarter a chicken, you’ll bake macaroni and cheese, you’ll learn the different ways to prepare an egg (scrambling, over easy/medium/hard, soft/hard boiling, fried, omelet, and even poached if your instructor has time, mine did. You will not be taught sunny side up, because by regulation it is not allowed to be served) It escapes my mind what your final dish in TOC is in order to move on to SQB, but it wasn’t hard. I think it was spaghetti and meatballs.

In SQB, you’ll make cookies, cupcakes, a pie (or turnovers, your choice), and to complete the SQB module, you’ll bake a cake.

After SQB, you’ll move on to small garrison. There used to be a ‘large garrison’ module, but that was phased out some time ago. This is when you’ll be introduced to DFAC operations. What you’ll actually be doing for the next three to four years of your life. Before you actually begin cooking, you’ll return to the JCCOE auditorium where you’ll receive classroom instruction on what to expect and what to do for that module. Then, you’ll start cooking in the other half of that week. Remember when I said on your first day of AIT you’ll have people three weeks ahead of you cooking for you? Well now it’s your turn. Those brand new AIT students will be coming through the line and you’ll be serving them.

There will be two shifts. Early and late. Early shift will report at 0500 and cook, serve breakfast and cook lunch. Late shift will report at 1100 and serve lunch and then clean up and close the DFAC. Breakfast shift will go home at 1300, late shift will go home at 1600.

Once you wrap up small garrison, you will spend two weeks in the ‘field’ at FOTB, or Field Operations Training Branch. As I said, this is a two week module. The first week you will be trained on all field equipment and how to use it. You will learn about rations, SSMO operations, etc, as well. The following week, you will cook at FOTB.

After FOTB, you will head into your QMSTX (Quartermaster Situational Training Exercise). The first day, you will do a ’round robin’ and refresh on everything you learned in basic training, and the next day you will apply it to practical scenarios. A lot like basic training, without boring the reader with details.

Then, you’ll spend the latter portion of your STX week making sure your ASU is in order, that it still fits, getting any rank/awards added, finalizing orders, getting out-processed from Fort Lee, and then you’ll graduate.

That’s the academic aspect of AIT.

Now for the physical aspect:

You will PT from 0500 to 0615. Chow will be at 0630 to 0700. Hygiene will be from 0700 to 0730. Class starts at 0800.

PT will vary, but was straightforward for me. Monday, Wednesday, Friday RUN DAY. Tuesday muscle failure, Thursday muscle failure with light cardio (i.e. one lap around the track and then do as many pushups as you can, rinse and repeat) Give PT everything you have each morning. Just because you’re a cook doesn’t mean you get a free pass on staying in shape. It’s a job requirement, after all.

Important note for the physical aspect: You will take two APFTs (and soon, ACFT) in AIT. The first one should be during week two or three of AIT. It will be a diagnostic to see where you are at. If you pass this diagnostic, you are eligible to go on pass during the weekends, and order out for food. You will then take a record APFT. Passing this one means you will graduate.

If you do not pass the record APFT/ACFT, there’s time for one more but it is very important you pass it the second time, or you may not graduate on time. You will not graduate AIT or leave Fort Lee, that is a promise. You don’t want to be stuck in AIT land any longer than you have to.

For your downtime:

ENJOY IT. When you are not in class, on duty at night (yes, you will have fireguard but it’ll be called by a different name), doing PT, or barracks maintenance, and you have down time (weekends especially), enjoy it. Watch movies, play cards with your roommates, play video games, go on pass if you’re allowed to (go bowling, to the warrior zone, movie theater, PX, Church)

You will be punished and smoked, just like basic. Your platoon will fowl up, another platoon will fowl up, it will happen. Get used to it. Just like in basic, the quickest way out of AIT is to graduate.”

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.

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