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Cooking for Cultures: Cooperative Osprey Cooks Keep Troops Fed,

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Aug. 28, 1996 – Marine Corps cooks don't usually handle their field mess duties so formally. Normally, they set up their field kitchen, cook meals, then serve the troops, who sit on a log, stump or rock and eat.

During Cooperative Osprey '96, Marine Corps cooks modified their field duties to better feed nearly 1,100 Partnership for Peace soldiers. Instead of stumps below shade trees, soldiers got tables and chairs in dining tents. Instead of reading and writing letters in dark tents, soldiers ate popcorn and watched videos on televisions inside the tent.

The special arrangement gave partnership troops a chance to relax and enjoy their meals after a day of sand, sweat and skills training. Besides hosting two hot meals to training soldiers from 19 nations, the mess tent also provided a place to play cards, rest and discuss training for the next day.

"It's definitely not something we're used to doing in the field," said Marine Corps Cpl. Kenneth Booknight, one of two shift leaders at the operation base camp. Still, he and his 10-member team had few problems handling meal requirements and the makeshift recreation center for the partnership exercise.

"The folks moved pretty quickly through here," he said. "They grabbed their food, ate a good, hearty meal, but left almost as fast as they got here. They knew we had a lot a people to feed every day, so they did a good job of moving in and out."

The dining complex was a round-the-clock operation, and the smell of cooking food often competed with the sea air from nearby Onslow Beach. Booknight arrived at work at midnight every night and immediately started making breakfast. Through the early morning darkness, his shift cooked potatoes and rice, fried bacon, sausage and ham, and prepared pancakes, French toast or waffles for the 5 a.m. breakfast call.

For some, the aroma was enough to drive appetites wild, and Booknight said he had his fair share of night visitors hoping to grab a quick snack. "It wasn't too bad early in the morning," he said. "It's usually between 3 and 5 a.m. -- when people start smelling the bacon and sausage cooking. Sometimes it's hard to tell these folks we're not feeding until 5 -- especially when they don't understand what we're saying most of the time."

Those who wait saw morning feasts many Eastern European and Central Asian soldiers probably never see otherwise. Albanian Maj. Shkelqim Kalemi, a 19-year military veteran, expressed surprise at the size of an American-style breakfast -- but added he didn't turn them away. "Sometimes I think it is too much food and that we'll never be able to work it off," he said. "The food is very rich, very good and something we will miss when we go back to Albania."

In preparing each breakfast, Booknight's crew cooked 1,000 slices of bacon and 1,000 servings of ham and sausages. They boiled 40 pounds of rice, scrambled up to 15 cases of eggs, used 50 to 100 loaves of bread and fried 10 to 12 packets of diced potatoes. And then there fresh fruits, coffee, juices and breakfast pastry at most dining facilities.

After three hours of breakfast, Booknight's crew began the evening meal -- a task picked up at noon by the dinner crew. "Although we didn't actually cook the meal, there are things we did for them that made their job a little easier, and they did the same for us," said Booknight. "When chili was on the menu, we started the ground beef and got the spices together."

The variety presented in the morning increased at the evening meals, where the cooks tried to keep dining interesting. "We rotated entrees every eight to 10 meals so troops wouldn't get tired of what we cooked," said Booknight. "We served everything from T-bone steaks and barbecued chicken to chili, roast beef and turkey." He said the dining facility tried to serve two meats each night.

Although the cuisine was strictly American, Booknight said he got some suggestions about Eastern European entrees. It's something he's open to in future exercises, but not right now. "We'd have to plan for it, but if we had the right recipes and the supplies to cook some, why not?" he said. "It would give us a chance to learn something from the partnership exercise and give the visiting troops a taste of home."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePartnership for Peace troops find plenty to eat at the Marine Corps' field dining facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Nearly 1,100 troops training during Cooperative Osprey '96 and an additional 600 U.S. Marine support troops dined twice a day at Camp Blue Bird. Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA  
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