“From the Sea, to the DMZ,” was our motto in the 19th Sustainment Command. We had responsibility to support the entire Korean peninsula with logistics including all ammunitions, food, fuel, mechanical parts, and other basic supplies needed by the military. Our main Combat Element was the 2nd Infantry Division, spanning across the 38th parallel, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). We were based out of Camp Henry in Taegu and Camp Walker was only a stone’s throw away.
We had two dining facilities within three miles of each other near the headquarters for the 19th. My office, known as the G-4 (Logistics) was across the hall from the Commanding General, Chief of Staff and Command Sergeant Major. We usually flew into Camp Stanley, located on the DMZ or Camp Humphries located just an hour’s drive south of Seoul first to evaluate the festive meal. Then we would depart and Land in Seoul to see those soldiers’ efforts. All of the culinary teams were recognized and thanked by the General and Command Sergeant Major for having done exceptional work for the holiday meal. We helped to serve the Thanksgiving meal side by side with the other officers at each location.
At the end of the day we would announce the winner of the overall best holiday meal but all of them were winners to us, having put out the very best that they could. Many of them had stayed up all night in order to get the meal finished in time. After all there was much more than a meal. There were ice sculptures, decorated cakes, gingerbread house villages, bread cornucopias, and other decorations to be finished up. In my younger days a soldier I also worked on the displays in the very same unit. My base camp back then was Camp Ames, a small Army depot near Taejon, located in the middle of South Korea.
In fact my days serving in the 25th Infantry Division based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii included more of my enlisted time where my teams competed in the holiday preparations. At that time ice sculptures, cake decorating and meal preparation were on my to-do list for the contest. Six years of my early military career were spent as a cook and then the Army selected me for Warrant Officer Candidate School.
Upon completion of the Warrant Officer Training at Fort Rucker, Alabama and Fort Lee, Virginia my career as an Army Warrant Officer kicked off at the 10th Mountain Division, located at Fort Drum in upstate New York. I was the new Food Service Technician for the 10th Mountain Division Artillery and had the responsibility to oversee the food service program as well as take the lead on culinary training for the 10th. We saw the Thanksgiving Holiday as an opportunity to show the rest of the base that we were the best. All of the other brigades did the same and it was very competitive. Whether we won or lost wasn’t really important and I think we won as many as any other brigade. Being in the game was fulfilling and working with the young soldiers to help them develop their skills was a lot of fun.
The Army had bigger plans for me as my four years in the 10th came to a close. They offered me two jobs to choose from. Would I accept the food operations job at West Point or go on to take on the training of cooks at Fort Lee, VA? It was a tough choice but in the end I knew the right answer for me was to take on the training. So off to Fort Lee we went and into training mode I went.
At Fort Lee we still had the November tradition of preparing an extravagant buffet of Thanksgiving meals for all of the trainees and the instructors and their families. My focus at Lee was to help the instructors learn advanced skills so they could better help the trainees and that is what I did for three and a half years as the Chief of the Culinary Skills Training Branch. We trained about 5200 new Army cooks a year plus intermediate level training for mid level food service management for the entire Army. Our umbrella included The Advanced Culinary Arts Training Course and many of the chefs from The Whitehouse, Camp David, and The Pentagon as well as personal chefs for the Commanding Generals and Admirals attended our training.
I was at odds at the end of my tour of training soldiers at Fort Lee. Tears filled my eyes as I had to say goodbye to what I felt was the place I most belonged in the Army. It was back to South Korea where this story began. I was assigned as the Command Food Service Warrant Officer of the 19th Sustainment Command, the same place that my Army career began. We would spend the next four years growing a culinary powerhouse. We won the Army’s culinary competition two years in a row in 2005 and 2006. We developed training programs with local culinary colleges and traded our western food philosophy for the Korean food techniques. These were times of bonding with our South Korean communities and building relationships that are still alive today.
One final Army Thanksgiving awaited me at Fort Riley, KS as I would take a new job as the Command Food Advisor for the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red 1!)” Feeding 7,000 soldiers three meals a day was my overall job although I wasn’t doing any of the cooking. The soldiers, Army chefs and their teams prepared the meals day in and day out. I worked for the top logistics officer who worked for the chief of staff who worked for the general. We would build relationships with the community and build a culinary team to contend with the rest of the Army at the annual All-Army Culinary Competition.
Thanksgiving brings many memories for many of us and for me the ones that I got to be involved with soldiers are some of my favorites. Making Thanksgiving special for soldiers is really special. Making it for family and friends is too! Cherish the memories you make this year!
Here’s a recipe for our Butternut Squash Soup at Bistro Colorado. I hope that you enjoy it.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (for ten)
Butternut Squash One Ea
Yellow Onion, sliced ½ Ea
Carrots, sliced 1 Ea
Olive Oil or Butter ½ Cup
Apple juice or Vegetable Stock 3 Quarts
Apple Cider Vinegar ½ Cup
Brown Sugar 1 Cup
Cayenne Pepper ¼ tsp
Cinnamon, Ground 1 tsp
Salt ½ tsp
Maple Syrup as needed
Whipped Cream with Nutmeg as needed
Toasted Walnuts as needed
Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds with a spoon and roast at 350 degrees f. for one hour or until tender.
Remove the outer skin of the squash using a sharp knife or scoop out the roasted squash with a spoon.
Cut the squash into chunks and place in a pot with the olive oil or butter, sliced carrot and sliced onion. Cook over medium heat for ten minutes and then add the apple juice / stock, brown sugar, cayenne, cinnamon, salt and vinegar.
Cook for 20 minutes and then blend using an immersion blender or your stand up blender. Once the soup is pureed and seasoning adjusted it can be served with the syrup, whipped spiced cream and walnuts as a garnish.
Have a great Holiday Season!