Sunday, January 27, 2008

A story to make us appreciate all of our choices!

CC Note: Some years back my ex-husband and I started our married life together in the military (he served - 82nd Airborne as in the story below, I supported). Money was often short and MREs helped to fill in the gaps when it was a choice between groceries and rent. Ah, the good old days of canned foods with whatever I could find to dress it up and make it palatable. Yum. So thankful to be able to run to the grocery store or stop at a local restaurant or drive through! The days of MRE banquets are long gone, but this story brought back memories and helped to make me appreciate today's many culinary options!

Soldier Cooks up Morale in Afghanistan

Soldiers on the front lines are used to meals, ready to eat -- high-energy, high-calorie packaged meals with little emphasis on taste.

Army Spc. Dairo Orozco, of the 82nd Airborne Division's Company F, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, is the cook for paratroopers here, and his skills bring an extra touch to the MREs and unitized group ration meals the soldiers eat.

"A (UGR) is just precooked stuff you put in boiling water for about 45 minutes to an hour, and presto," said Orozco, a 25-year-old Queens, N.Y., native. "You just set it and forget it."

Orozco, called "Roscoe" by the soldiers, arrived at this firebase in the south of Afghanistan's Ghazni province in November.

"I was selected to come out here to do the big Thanksgiving Day meal, because the brigade commander and command sergeant major were coming out," Orozco said. "I never got replaced, so I did the same for Christmas and just stuck around."

Even though it's not hard to please a platoon of paratroopers used to dining on MREs, Orozco has culinary arts in his blood. "My father and uncle are chefs," Orozco explained. "My father is the food production manager at Gate Gourmet, an airline catering company, and my uncle is an executive chef at Intercontinental Hotels."

While Orozco doesn't have the facilities and resources to create gourmet meals, the soldiers at Nawa appreciated his efforts during the holidays.

"Christmas dinner was great," said Army 1st Lt. Mordechai D. Sorkin, 3rd Platoon leader, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "He's pretty creative; (he) makes do with minimal resources and makes some pretty good stuff."

With a UGR as the canvas for a culinary masterpiece, it's usually difficult for Orozco to constantly rise to the challenge, the Army cook said.

"Pizza-baked spaghetti is the No. 1 product right now, but not by choice," Orozco said. "One of the better UGR meals is the buffalo chicken and lemon chicken, but most of our food stock consists of pizza bake."

Orozco said pizza-bake spaghetti, a meal consisting of meat chunks, noodles and pizza sauce, tops the soldiers' list of worst entrees, but added that he tries to make the meals as enjoyable as possible.

"Roscoe puts a lot more effort into the food than just dropping it in the water, so we're not really eating the same thing every time," said Army Spc. Jeremy A. Clark, 4th Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "He's done the best he can with what we have."

Luckily for the paratroopers in Nawa, Orozco has enough knowledge about the local food and spices to make a meal from scratch.

"Probably about once a week he goes out to get local food and cook it up," Clark said. "He's a real good cook, and I think it helps out a lot with the guys' morale."

Orozco said he originally joined the Army for culinary arts, but the service dropped that military occupational speciality and changed everyone in it to food operations specialists.

"The Army hasn't been exactly what I was expecting, but it has made me more mature," Orozco said. "I may not have learned much more about culinary arts than I already knew, but I know I'll make better decisions once I get out because of my training."

(Author: Army Spc. Nathan W. Hutchison serves with 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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