America Supports You: California Group Sizzles Up Steaks for Deployed Troops
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2006 "Cooks From the Valley," a California volunteer group, goes to great lengths to throw an all-American barbecue to show their support for America's men and women in uniform - 18,250 miles, to be exact.
An "America Supports You" banner waves overhead as deployed sailors prepare to dig into a steak dinner served to them by "Cooks from the Valley" volunteers to show appreciation for their service. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The group recently returned from the Middle East, where they sizzled up 2.8 tons of prime 14-ounce New York strip steaks for crewmembers aboard the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Aegis cruiser San Jacinto and guided-missile destroyer Donald Cook, said Tom Anton, a group leader.
The weeklong visit, which wrapped up in late January, was the group's first barbecue for U.S. servicemembers outside the United States.
Anton, a longtime member of the Bakersville Navy League, told the American Forces Press Service he began preparing gourmet steaks for sailors aboard aircraft carriers 25 years ago. He and other volunteers dug into their own pockets to purchase the best-quality steaks money could buy and grilled them up personally for thousands of servicemembers at a time.
They expanded the operation to feed a Marine battle group just before its members left for Iraq, then traveled to Fort Lewis, Wash., to throw a barbecue for a Stryker battalion.
During their latest trip, the group - business people, lawyers, doctors, developers, contractors, farmers and even a federal judge - prepared 6,300 juicy steaks for deployed troops in the Middle East, Anton said.
"It's a piece of home that we're able to bring these men and women," he said. "Our goal is to graphically display to them that civilians support their voluntary military service. It's a way of showing that absolute strangers care about absolute strangers."
Anton expressed thanks to the many people who help make the effort a success. Among them is Jim French, a civilian employee at Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, who helps on the logistics end to ensure the cooks' steaks reach their intended destinations. "He's a magician," Anton said.
Servicemembers treated to the feast offered nothing but rave reviews. "That was the best meal I'd had in six months!" one petty officer second class wrote after the barbecue. "I'll eat steak any day they want to cook again!"
A lieutenant junior grade credited the California cooks with serving up "some of the best steaks ever" and said he'd have eaten two if one hadn't been completely filled him up.
The barbecue was a big morale boost for the crews and made it easier for them to be away from friends and family for months at a time, a petty officer 3rd class wrote following the feast. "When we get any kind of support - a letter or anything from someone back home to show their appreciation for what we do - it drives us to make sure that we continue to stay safe and do our job and keep the ones back home happy, safe and free," he wrote. "Because of people like you, I am proud to serve."
Part of the motivation behind the Cooks from the Valley effort is to ensure that today's military members never experience the lack of support Vietnam veterans faced, Anton said.
All military members raised their hands and "voluntarily chose to put their lives on hold, and sometimes in harm's way to serve their country," he said.
Entertaining servicemembers with food is just one way Americans are showing their support, Anton said. "Each community and each person has something they can do for the military," he said. "Regardless of our political views, we all have an obligation to support our troops."
Cooks from the Valley is a partner in the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program. The nationwide campaign spotlights what the American public is doing to support military members, encourages others to express their appreciation and offers a forum for military supporters to share their efforts and activities.